Early Termination of Probation Just Got Easier, Here’s Why

loan-224x300Everything seems to be a crime these days.

And, everything seems to be so serious.

When I started defending criminal cases back in 1993, several crimes that were misdemeanors are now felonies.  Some stuff that is a serious felony today wasn’t even a crime when I was growing up.  For example, if me and my friends were armed with photo texting abilities back in 1983, I’m pretty sure some of us would have committed a felony or two exchanging pictures with our girlfriends.  Should 16-year-olds be doing this sort of thing?  Of course not.  Should they be labeled a sex offender for the rest of their life for having the raging harmones that most teens (adults?) don’t understand how to temper?

Harvey Silverglate wrote a book about how each of us may be committing a crime or two each day, called “Three Felonies A Day”.

Fortunately, of recent, we’re seeing a shift away from punishment, and towards public safety. 

After all, why would you continue to punish someone for a crime if that continued punishment does not make our streets any safer?  The safety of We The People should be the top priority, not punishment.  Politicians were once afraid to lighten sentences, as it can be hard to get elected by being “weak on crime,” everyone wants to be tough on crime.  But, “tough on crime” is synonymous with unfair sentences much in the same way as “organic” is a grocery term for “more expensive” (Jim Gaffigan).

If you want the public to be safer, it may be a good idea to have them employable and working.  So, does it help to have lots of folks on probation?  Well, have you ever tried to find a job while on probation?  It’s not easy to do.  And, if you believe in the old saying that “the devil makes use of idle hands”, you’ll realize the wisdom in our legislature’s decision to make it easier to terminate probation so that people can get back to work, supporting their families.

The best way to get folks with a criminal record back to work is to (a) get them off of probation, and (b) seal up their criminal history.  To that end, we defense attorneys file Motions for Early Termination of Probation.

Having an early termination motion granted isn’t easy.  We have had several judges in Orange County who simply refuse to terminate probation early.  For example, Judge Conrad (RIP) would deny these motions regularly, explaining each time that “A Deal’s a Deal, you agreed to 4 years probation, it is your signature on this plea form–why would I cut this deal in half?  You wouldn’t buy a new car on a 4-year loan and attempt to stop paying two years in, would you?  You agreed to four years of probation, I’m going to hold you to it.”

You get the point.  Early terminations are sometimes a battle.

The change in the law governing early terminations of probation comes via a  substantial modification of Florida Statute 948.04 which took effect on October 1, 2019.  The law requires the judge to either (1) grant early termination of probation or (2) convert the supervised probation to administrative unsupervised probation, under the following circumstances:

(a) The probationer has completed at least half of the term,

(b) the probationer has completed all other conditions of probation,

(c) there are no prior violations, and

(d) the sentencing agreement does not specifically exclude the early termination or administrative probation.

Yes, you heard me right.  As of October 1, 2019, a judge must terminate early, or give the probationer non-reporting administrative probation.

Gone are the days of begging a judge to terminate early.  Now, a probationer can simply file the request pursuant to Florida Statute 948.04, and attach proof of compliance with (a) – (d), listed above.

Even though this new law forces the judge to grant either early termination or administrative probation, the legislature has written into the new law a few escape valves.

For example, a judge can deny the early termination request “upon making a written finding that continued reporting probation is necessary to protect the community or the interests of justice.” 948.04(5).

Again, the new law does not apply to folks who were placed on probation prior to October 1, 2019.

By the way, this motion may be brought by either a probation officer or the probationer.  My humble opinion on this is that you may not want to wait around for the probation officer to file this motion–probation officers can be pretty busy folks and you may be waiting months before they get around to it.