Florida Court Reverses Revocation of Probation for Failure to Pay Court Costs

In some cases, rather than sentence a person convicted of a crime to imprisonment, a court will impose probation. A probation sentence typically includes conditions that the defendant must abide by. If a defendant fails to comply with the terms of his or her probation, probation may be revoked and a stricter sentence may be imposed.

As set forth in a case recently decided by a Florida appellate court, however, not all probation violations are grounds for revocation. If you live in Sarasota and are facing criminal charges, it is prudent to consult a seasoned Sarasota criminal defense attorney to assist you in formulating a defense.

Terms of the Defendant’s Probation

The defendant was convicted of welfare fraud and sentenced to probation. There were several conditions to her probation, including the conditions that she “will pay” court costs and that she “may perform” community service in lieu of paying court costs. The defendant did not pay the court costs or perform community service. Consequently, the State moved for a revocation of probation. During the revocation proceeding, the court did not assess whether the defendant had the ability to pay the court costs, but found that the defendant had the ability to perform community service. Thus, the court revoked her probation. The defendant then appealed the revocation of her probation.

Grounds for Revocation of Probation

Under Florida law, to revoke probation a trial court must find that a defendant substantially violated a condition of probation. Further, it must be shown that the violation was willful. In cases where the alleged violation is the failure to pay a monetary obligation, to show the defendant’s failure to pay was willful, the court must first find that the defendant possessed the ability to pay. In the subject case, as the trial court declined to make a determination as to the defendant’s ability to pay, the court could not affirm the revocation of probation due to the failure to pay court costs.

The court also declined to affirm the revocation due to the defendant’s failure to perform community service. The court stated that while the language stating the defendant “will” pay court costs meant that such payment was required, the language stating she “may” perform community service in lieu of payment was permissive. While the defendant had the alternative to perform community service, she chose not to do so. As such, the court found that the obligation to pay court costs remained in place, and the defendant’s probation could not be revoked unless the trial court found that she had the ability to pay. Therefore, the court reversed the revocation of probation and remanded the case to determine the defendant’s ability to pay court costs.

Confer with an Experienced Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorney Regarding your Case

If you face criminal charges in Sarasota, you should confer with an experienced Sarasota criminal defense attorney regarding the facts of your case and your available defenses. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a knowledgeable Sarasota criminal defense attorney who will work diligently on your behalf to help you pursue a successful result under the circumstances. Mr. Hanlon can be reached at 727-897-5413 or through the online form to set up a confidential and free conference.

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