WHAT ALL OF THESE PROGRAMS HAVE IN COMMON, STARTING WITH PRETRIAL SERVICES
The three different programs mentioned above have one major factor in common. Any defendant that is offered programs such as these probably has a pretty minimal record. Secondly, the charges are not going to be serious charges along the lines of violence or concerning victims that need to be protected. That’s because these offerings are about 95% within the discretion of the state attorney’s office whether to afford a criminal defendant the chance at one of these programs. Outside of the state attorney’s office, Pretrial Services in Duval County affords the recently arrested a chance to be released from jail on a cheaper bond or an ROR, release on one’s on recognizance. The decision to place a person on Pretrial services in Duval County is up to a few select correctional officers who are assigned to the first appearance courtroom at the jail. These officers first read the arrest dockets looking at the nature of the charges across the board for individuals in the session of first appearance or “bond setting” court. Many defendants will not even be considered for Pretrial Services, again, due to the nature of their charges. Once the officer has his stack of individuals whom he thinks might qualify for Pretrial Services release, he pulls their local criminal history as a minimum and nationwide history if he or she has time. The corrections officer then makes a recommendation to the first appearance court judge for the defendant to be placed into the program. The defendant then signs an agreement to adhere to the conditions of the program. Most judges set very reasonable bonds or ROR defendants once a Sheriff’s representative (the corrections officer) makes the recommendation. Some of the common conditions of Pretrial Services are: weekly drug screening by urinalysis, the wearing of a drug patch, reporting in once a week to a Sheriff’s office location, community service hours, some type of classes trying to help the defendant with identified problems and, if there is a victim, no victim contact or no violent victim contact. Some particular judges add that no guns or ammunition may be possessed and that the person remain “crime free.” This writer has had plenty of experience with the program and the assigned officers running this program at the Duval County Pretrial Detention Facility. This is a program that works. If offered the opportunity to enter this program, every defendant should take advantage of it.
PRETRIAL INTERVENTION, BOTH MISDEMEANOR AND FELONY
Once a criminal defendant’s case leaves first appearance court, a prosecutor will be assigned to the case. An exception to that would be if a person was arrested on a warrant which means a prosecutor, as well as a judge has already looked at the case and followed through with a warrant. The space in time between first appearance court and arraignment is when individual prosecutors are reviewing their respective newly assigned cases and considering options or “filing decisions” setting the case on a path to a just disposition(at least in their mind). Factors considered in a filing decision that would result in a Pretrial Intervention, or PTI, offer would be a person’s criminal history, the nature of the immediate crime, any mitigation supplied by the defense attorneys, input from any victims and any possible repayment or restitution keeping the victim whole when a property crime is involved. In North Florida, a person offered felony PTI will have a meeting set up at the Florida Department of Corrections, Probation and Parole Office. This makes it seem very much like the person is on probation and many times those on felony PTI refer to their handler as their “P.O.” or their probation officer. Their handler is actually a probation officer but is working in a “court services” position. At the initial meeting the defendant will sign a PTI contract spelling out the terms. The terms do come very close to what this writer labels as “probation in advance.” The defendant is under the control of the state correctional officer at this point. The defendant is usually restricted from leaving Duval, Nassau or Clay counties, must notify his or her handler within 24-48 hours or changing addresses, may or may not have a GPS ankle monitor, must report in every week, is subject to random drug testing, may have to make restitution payments, attend classes or rehabilitation programs, and, very similar to probation, his court services officer can go visit him at work or at home. Overall, Pretrial Intervention at the felony level is one hell of a break for most defendants. Once the conditions are met and/or the time period has passed with no problems, the department of corrections notifies the state attorney office that the defendant accomplished everything, the felony case is dropped, ie, not prosecuted by the state. This programs works well also. Thousands of folks arrested in North Florida have successfully avoided lifetime stigmas of a felony record by taking advantage of a PTI offer, commonly called “diversion” offered at the discretion of the prosecutor assigned to the case. The flip side is one turns into a “PTI reject”(just what it means), and can’t complete the conditions, the state attorney simply, about 95 -99% of the time, simply files the original felony bringing lifelong implications to the defendant. Misdemeanor PTI is an internal program run completely within the state attorney’s office. Obviously, it’s a much easier program since the charges are misdemeanors. Requirements are similar, classes, community service hours, maybe payments to some specified victim’s fund. There is no reporting, however. The person just provides proof after 75-90 days that all is complete and, again, the charges are dropped. The two most common misdemeanor charges PTI’ed in our area are marijuana charges and petty thefts.PROBATION, BOTH MISDEMEANOR AND FELONY
A case that resolves with a probationary sentence means the person is still being given a chance, for the most part. Usually probation means the person is avoiding jail or prison. Sometimes a judge or prosecutor will make some period of confinement a special condition of probation or simply order incarceration followed by probation. For example, convicted sex offenders or predators typically serve years of prison followed by long stretches on sex offender probation. Their probation’s purpose is to keep them very strictly monitored. A huge percentage of these types of probationers return to prison throughout their lives. A very common type of felony probation in North Florida is drug offender probation. Simply stated, if a person can get their drug problem or cravings eliminated for a period of time, frequently 18 months, report in once a month, hang around the right type of people, pay the all important fees and costs and not get rearrested for any new charges during the period of probation, they successfully complete probation. If they violate probation, the judge signs a warrant, almost always with no monetary bond(the violator is not entitled to one by law), the person returns to his or her same judge, faces getting a conviction and jail or prison time. Over the years this writer has observed dozens of judges handle probation violations. Some give second, third and fourth chances. Some are reluctant to even take a plea with a probationary sentence because so many on probation simply violate, return to court and clog up the dockets. They would rather handle the defendant’s case one time as opposed to two to three times because of probation violations. Misdemeanor probation in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties is administered by the Salvation Army under a contractual arrangement with the court system. There is monthly reporting. There are classes, mainly for those who plead to Domestic Battery charges. These are weekly classes for around 24 consecutive weeks. It is this writer’s observation that the number one reason for a misdemeanor violation in North Florida is the probationer’s inability to complete these classes. Upon violation, that probationer faces arrest on a zero bond capias usually although the case is just a misdemeanor. Upon arrest, some will sit in jail around 30 days before returning to their sentencing judge. This part of the Salvation Army is not the nice, smiling folks you see ringing a bell at Christmas outside of your grocery store. They are all business. They have heard all of the excuses. They operate under a “zero tolerance” mandate which requires them to violate those who can’t meet the conditions. Unfortunately, in Duval County many people enter pleas to weak and defensible misdemeanor charges, going on probation, in first appearance court, as they are asking, “does this mean I get out today?”
All criminal defense attorneys who have some years of practice, especially if they are or previously worked as a public defender, have helped folks with all of the above options. Almost all Duval, Clay, Nassau, Putnam, St. Johns, Baker, Bradford, Flagler or Alachua county criminal defense lawyers offer some sort of free consultations. Most criminal defense lawyers can size up a violation of probation case and advise you very quickly. Fighting a violation of probation is different than fighting the original charge. If you, a relative or friend has trouble brewing with the programs mentioned above, the lawyers at the Forbess Law Firm in Jacksonville have helped hundreds in these areas.