On October 1, 2011, a new law went into effect that allows Florida judges to hold those suspected of probation or community control violations in jail when appearing in court facing new, separate criminal charges.
The "Officer Andrew Widman Act" was passed in response to the killing of an officer in 2008 in a shootout with an individual who had a warrant out for his arrest for violating parole. The event caused public scrutiny and press coverage of probation laws, and ultimately led to the enactment of the bill. The measure passed the Florida Senate unanimously and had only one nay vote in the Florida House of Representatives. Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law last May.
Probation Violation Arrests
When a person is arrested on suspicion of committing a new crime while on probation, the court at the First Appearance for the new offense can now issue an arrest warrant for a probation violation.
Previously, the probation violation and new criminal charges were processed separately, which in some cases allowed someone charged to meet bail conditions after the First Appearance in court - meaning the accused was released, pending further court appearances, despite the fact that it was likely a warrant for the arrest of the defendant was soon coming.
Anyone who was found guilty by a jury, pled no contest to a criminal act or did not contest criminal charges (formally refered to as nolo contendere) can be put on probation or community supervision. Typically, when a person on probation is arrested for a new crime, the probation officer contacts the court that originally sentenced the defendant to probation. The Department of Corrections oversees the probation or community supervision, which involves the convict contacting probation officers or officer supervision on weekends and holidays. Probation can include other conditions as well. A standard provision for probation is that the convict will not commit another crime - doing so violates probation and can result in the arrest of the individual in violation.
If someone on probation is arrested for committing another crime, the probation officer contacts the judge who originally issued the probation sentence. The sentencing judge looks at the affidavit submitted by the parole officer and uses his or her judgment of the facts to determine whether the offender is in violation of probation. If the judge does so determine, he or she can issue a warrant for the arrest of the person in violation of probation.
Now, the judge at the First Appearance can take the place of the sentencing court, and issue an arrest warrant if he or she even suspects the defendant is in violation of parole.
What This Means for Those Arrested While on Probation
So what happens to those arrested for a new criminal act while on probation? At the First Appearance, if a judge suspects a violation of probation, he or she will inform the defendant of the violation and ask alleged perpetrators if they are currently on probation or under community supervision.
If the charged person admits to being on probation, the judge will order the charged person to the court that granted probation or community control.
If the defendant does not admit to being on probation, the judge can commit the offender (put jim or her into custody), order the defendant to the original sentencing court, or release the defendant with or without bail. Under the new law, the court at the First Appearance will consider whether it is likely that the court that granted the probation or community supervision would issue an arrest warrant because of the new charges. If the judge believes the sentencing court would do so, he or she will be more likely to immediately issue the warrant for the defendant's arrest and not set any bail conditions.
Warrantless Arrest Also Allowed Under Certain Conditions
Usually, the preferred procedure for officers is to obtain an arrest warrant to take a suspect into custody. However, a law enforcement official can arrest a suspected probation violator without a warrant, provided certain conditions are met. Namely, that a law enforcement officer:
- Knows the suspect is on probation or community supervision
- Has "reasonable grounds" to believe the suspect is in violation of that probation
If these conditions are met, an officer does not need a warrant, but can arrest the suspect immediately upon apprehending the suspect.
An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Is Essential
Probation violations carry the risk of serious penalties, including fines and jail time. If you have been accused of violating your probation, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can guide you through the new law and protect your interests and rights.