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I can't afford my probation fees and costs, what can I do?

When being sentenced by a judge in a criminal case, often fines and fees are the last things on a defendant's mind. However, these monetary matters can cause potential problems later on down the road when it comes to successfully completeing probation and sometimes even beyond the conclusion of probation.

Many probation offices, state or county, in Florida will have implemented a sliding scale (adjusting costs of supervision with the ability to pay) as to the costs of probation. Upon request, a judge may also waive the cost of probation or allow for probation to do so. Trying to get this done up front (when you plea or are sentenced) is the best way to address this.

However, even if probation costs are waived, under Florida law, court costs and other statutorily mandated fines may not be waived (such as the fines for DUI or Domestic Battery charges). The problem becomes that if one does not pay these, one may find oneself in violation of probation. So what can be done to avoid this and take care of money issues?

One possible solution is to request that the judge allow you to do community service work in lieu of the costs. This is done under probation's supervision during the period of probation announced during sentencing. Generally, in Florida, the exchange rate is one hour equals $10 (e.g., a $500 fine will be 50 community service hours). Be aware, though, that if you ask a judge to convert money to community service hours, and then you do not complete the community service hours, you may very well be facing jail time. Please see our prior blog post on the issue of: "Can I violate probation for not paying fines and fees?"

Another possible solution to monetary sanctions is to allow the judge to put them to a judgment. This approach basically "wipes the slate clean" as far as the criminal case is concerned. There is a downside however: the debt never really gets wiped clean as you will have a civil judgment outstanding that will effect your credit until it is paid off. Also, if there is a judgment for outstanding court costs, the Department of Motor Vehicles will suspend a person's driver's license until the judgment is paid.

Please do not rely on this information to make legal decisions in your case. Please call our attorneys with any questions and/or to set up a free case evaluation.

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