How do you NOT violate your probation.
You would think it's easy, right? Think again. While probation is certainly a better alternative than going to jail or prison, it can create traps that an unsuspecting probationer can fall into, leading to a probation violation.
Probation violations are tough situations to be in. First of all, they are very easy for the State to prove. The burden of "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" exists only at the trial level. For a probation violation, the State need only show the Judge (not a jury) that by a greater weight of the evidence, the accused violated their probation. In other words, the State must show that it is more likely than not that the defendant violated a condition of their probation.
So here is a list (not an all-inclusive list, of course) of the top 7 ways NOT to violate your probation.
1) Be Polite - The relationship that you have with your probation officer can make all the difference. Your probation officer has the ability to help you, but they also have the ability to hurt you. Treat them with respect, even if they don't show you the same courtesy. Understand that they are just doing their job and their disdain for you is not personal. If you show them respect, they may be more likely to give you a pass should you find yourself in trouble. On the other hand, if you are rude to them, they may be quick to violate you when they don't have to.
2) No Drugs - When you are on probation, do not take drugs unless they are prescribed by a qualified professional AND your probation officer is aware that you are prescribed these drugs. Don't use illegal drugs and try to "time" your next drug test. A positive drug test is the most common way to find yourself in violation of probation. A jail or prison sentence isn't worth the high.
3) When Trouble Arises, Leave - Being in a car where everybody is smoking marijuana could violate you, even if you are not partipating. Being present while a crime is being committed could violate you, even if you are merely standing by. Probation places you under a microscope. If you are with people who are up to no good, leave immediately. If your friends can't seem to behave themselves when you are around, it's time to make new friends. You're the one with something to lose, not them.
4) Satisfy All Monetary Conditions - Probation is expensive. You have the cost of supervision, drug testing fees, court costs, fines, restitution, and so on. You must satisfy these conditions in order to be in compliance with your probation. While a monetary violation may not lead to the issuance of an arrest warrant, it will lead to a violation affidavit being filed. At the very least this can cause you great inconvenience (and worry). Probation-related costs, especially restitution, is a priority. Those payments you make every month to probation are more important than your phone bill, your cable bill, or your weekend bar tab. You may have to make sacrifices in other areas of your life, but once you have your rent paid and food in your fridge, probation-related expenses are next on your list of priorities.
5) Don't Break The Law - This is the easiest one. Don't commit new crimes. Don't push your luck either. Don't drive after you've been drinking (even if you're not legally impaired) and don't drive if your driver's license is suspended.
6) Complete Your Conditions - Whether community service hours or classes, finish the conditions. Above all, finish the conditions when the conditions need to be completed.
7) Use Common Sense - This one is a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to find yourself in violation. Read your probation rules, know what you can and cannot do. If you have a curfew, follow it. If you cannot leave the county without permission, don't leave the county without permission. When in doubt, always err on side of caution.
Eric Matheny is a criminal defense attorney serving South Florida.