Florida Probation Violations and the Youthful Offender Act – West v. State

Florida law provides certain protections to young adults who are charged with violating the terms of their criminal probations. Specifically, the state’s Youthful Offender Act limits the length of a criminal sentence that can be imposed on a person between the ages of 18 and 20 for violating the terms of their probation. The system is intended to ensure that the State doesn’t simply lock younger folks up and throw away the key, particularly for what might be relatively minor probation infractions. In West v. State, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals explains how the law distinguishes between “technical” and “substantive” probation violations.

Mr. West was sentenced to four years in state prison and an additional two years of probation after he plead guilty to charges of armed robbery and armed burglary. Four years later, his probation officer filed an affidavit with a local trial court, stating that West had violated his probation. Specifically the probation officer said West failed to report to the probation officer following his release from prison eight months earlier and leaving his county of residence without permission. The probation officer located West after he was arrested in Broward County for riding a bike without the appropriate light and possession of marijuana.

Finding sufficient evidence of the violations, a trial judge sentenced West to 10 years in prison for violating the terms of his probation.

West later appealed the decision, arguing that the prison sentence was illegal because he was a “youthful offender” and therefore couldn’t be sentenced to more than 6 years in jail for so-called “technical violations.” Under The Youthful Offender Act, an eligible defendant can’t be sentenced for “substantive” probation violation to a period longer than the maximum sentence available for the original crime for which he was convicted. With respect to “technical” violations, however, the sentence can’t be longer than six years or longer than the punishment available for the underlying crime.

“A substantive violation, as the phrase is used in section 958.14, refers exclusively to a violation premised on the commission of a separate criminal act,” the Court explained, citing the Florida Supreme Court’s 2001 decision in State v. Meeks. “In contrast, a technical violation is a violation of a rule of probation.”

Here, the Court said West’s failure to report and leaving the county without permission were technical violations of his probation terms which were subject to the six-year cap. As a result, the Court reversed the decision sentencing him to 10 years in prison and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Nevertheless, the Court said that West may have committed a substantive violation when he was arrested in Broward County. “While the probation officer’s affidavit indicates that West was arrested for two new offenses, the record includes neither evidence of the offenses nor the disposition of the charges,” the Court said. It added that the trial court should consider the circumstances of the arrest and determine whether it qualified as a substantive violation.

If you have been charged with a crime or probation violation in Florida, you need an effective, knowledgeable attorney who can aggressively defend your interests and consider all opportunities to lessen the punishment or have the charges dropped. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help assess your situation, protect your rights, negotiate with the prosecution on your behalf and reach the best possible outcome for your case.

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