When a person enters a guilty or no contest plea or is convicted in a criminal trial, the next step is normally for the judge to sentence the defendant. A criminal sentence can involve incarceration, probation or both. If a defendant is placed on probation, he/she is placed on probation for a number of months or years. During that time, there are usually conditions the defendant must meet. For instance, the defendant may have to complete community service hours, take certain classes, complete a rehabilitation program and so on. One condition that is required among all people on probation is that he/she must not commit any new crimes. If a person violates one or more of these conditions, that person will likely be arrested and will face a violation of probation charge.
There are two characteristics of a violation of probation charge in Florida that make it more difficult for defendants than regular criminal charges. One, the case is decided by the judge rather than a jury. There is no right to a jury trial for violation of probation charges. Two, the standard is much lower. For new criminal cases, the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no way to quantify this standard, but it is supposed to be a pretty high burden, at least in theory. For violations of probation, the standard is a preponderance of the evidence, which means more likely than not, or greater than 50%. This is universally considered a low standard.
One intricacy that sometimes comes into play with people on probation is a situation where the probationer gets arrested on a new charge, and for whatever reason, the state does not feel like they can prove the case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. However, they do proceed with a violation of probation case based on that alleged crime since the standard is lower and a judge decides. This most often happens in domestic battery cases. The state may have a hard time proving the new domestic battery charge to a jury because the police often do not collect much evidence or do any investigation at the scene upon arrest and alleged victims often change their stories or refuse to cooperate. However, judges are fully aware of the difficulties in proving domestic battery cases when victims refuse to cooperate, and they know a dropped domestic battery charge does not necessarily mean the suspect is not guilty. Sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t. The state dropping a case and the defendant being innocent are not necessarily the same thing under the law.
In a case just south of Jacksonville, Florida, a defendant was on probation for robbery. He was subsequently arrested for domestic battery. The state dropped the new domestic battery case. Thereafter, the criminal defense lawyer moved to dismiss the violation of probation case because the state dropped the underlying domestic battery charge. The court agreed, but that decision was reversed by the appellate court. As stated, because the standard for a violation of probation case is lower than a regular criminal charge, the state can drop, or even lose, a criminal case and still proceed with the probation violation case. In practice, normally if a defendant wins a criminal case at trial or the state decides to drop the case, the state will not proceed with the violation of probation case if the criminal case was the only basis for the alleged violation of probation. However, the law says the state can proceed, and they know this. In certain cases, where the state feels like they need to use whatever outlets they have to try and punish a defendant, they will go forward with a probation violation case even when they know they could not prove that case at a jury trial. Domestic violence cases, by nature, can be examples of this situation.