When someone is convicted of a crime, depending on the nature of the crime and the offender’s criminal history, rehabilitation may be preferable to punishment. If you are charged with a crime in the Tampa Bay area, a Tampa criminal defense attorney can discuss the sentencing options.
Jail terms and fines are only two of the penalties that judges in Florida may impose on convicted criminal offenders in this state. If you’ll continue reading, you’ll learn about alternative sentencing options in Florida, who qualifies, and how these programs work.
Of course, every person who is charged with a crime in Florida is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and to convict someone of a crime, the state must prove that person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
But the reality is that in large numbers of criminal cases, the person charged with the crime is not only guilty, but the proof of that guilt is overwhelming. When a criminal conviction is inevitable, you may qualify for one of the alternative sentencing options explained below.
The National Association of Drug Court Professionals tells us that drug courts are the most effective method of judicial intervention for treating offenders who have addiction issues. Over 3,000 drug courts currently operate across the United States.
If you are accused of a drug crime in Florida, you may qualify for drug court. If you do, and if you successfully complete the program, all charges against you will be dropped. First, however, you’ll have to qualify, and you’ll need the help of a good criminal defense lawyer.
Offenders enter Hillsborough County’s adult drug court program – the “Pretrial Intervention Drug Court” – at the prosecutor’s discretion, but if you are eligible, your defense lawyer can seek to have you admitted. Drug court programs in Florida include:
1. drug testing and monitoring
2. regularly scheduled case reviews before a judge
3. support groups and individual counseling
Non-violent offenders may qualify for day reporting. This means that the offender must report daily to a probation officer or another law enforcement official. Day reporting is an option for individuals who need supervision on a daily basis.
Mental Health Court
Mental health courts divert offenders with mental illnesses from prisons and jails – and from subsequent offenses. A mental health court, however, is not a conventional courtroom.
A mental health court is a setting where prosecutors, defense attorneys, and mental health professionals collaborate to help mentally ill persons who’ve been charged with crimes obtain the treatment, services, and counseling they need.
Most mental health courts let non-violent offenders have their criminal charges dismissed if they meet the court-ordered counseling and treatment terms and conditions. Charges are usually dismissed after a participant satisfies the mental health court’s requirements.
As of 2019, Florida had 31 veterans courts in operation. Veterans with substance abuse or mental health issues, including those with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries, may find it hard to return to their communities, and they sometimes fall into criminal behavior.
Veterans courts are designed to assist veterans accused of crimes with the treatment needs associated with substance abuse, mental health, and other issues unique to the traumatic experience of combat.
A vital element of veterans court is the volunteer veteran mentors who help their fellow veterans achieve the program’s goals. Judges, lawyers, treatment providers, and police agencies cooperate in veterans courts to help and rehabilitate offenders who have bravely served their country.
“Community control” may mean work release, probation, house arrest, electronic monitoring, or another type of alternative sentence. In Florida, judges place convicted offenders on house arrest or electronic surveillance – under community control – as an alternative to incarceration.
The State of Florida’s community control supervision program is the largest in the United States. Two types of community control are used by Florida’s criminal courts.
One type requires the offender to provide his or her daily schedule in advance to a community control officer. Each week, the offender must fill out an Offender Schedule and Daily Activity Log for the upcoming week. Any special circumstances or travel must be approved in advance.
The other type of community control additionally requires the offender to wear a GPS monitor.
Who May Qualify for Community Control?
Probationers who have violated the conditions of probation with a technical violation or a misdemeanor offense may be eligible for community control, as well as offenders convicted of non-capital felonies who cannot serve regular probation.
Community control is considerably harsher than regular probation. The offender is restricted to the home except for employment, school, court-ordered treatment or counseling, community service, or a trip or activity approved ahead of time by the community control officer.
Alternative sentencing options like community control stress the offender’s personal accountability and responsibility while offering a generous alternative to jail or prison. The offender must comply with the terms of the program and avoid any new legal trouble.
Offenders must meet weekly – or daily – with a community control officer, adhere to that officer’s instructions, seek permission for travel, and report any changes in their employment or residence.
When someone is placed under community control in Florida, there is no visiting friends or going to concerts, movies, or sports events. Your every move will be scrutinized.
What if You Are Innocent?
If you are charged with a crime in Florida, and you’re innocent, tell your attorney. Your attorney’s first step, in most cases, is seeking the have the charge dropped by the prosecutor or dismissed by the court.
If that’s not possible, you have the right to a trial, and if you are innocent, you should insist on it. The right Tampa criminal defense attorney will explain your side of the story to a jury and ask that jury to return with a not guilty verdict.
But if you are guilty as charged, and if the state has the evidence to prove it, you must consider alternative sentencing programs and discuss alternative sentencing with your defense attorney.
Alternative sentencing is an expression of leniency. It’s an opportunity for a convicted offender to leave criminal behavior behind without going to jail or prison. If you are convicted of a crime in Florida and you’re given an alternative sentence, take advantage of the opportunity.