Broward courts are set to reopen next week for in-person Final Violation of Probation (FVOP) trials. Witnesses and attorneys must appear in-person, while friends, family, and observers will only be permitted to attend via Zoom.
Status hearings are being held this week, with the easy to fix cases, mostly those not designated as VFO, for “Violent Felony Offender,” getting resolved to county time or reinstatements of supervision, just as they’ve been for months now on the regular in-custody Zoom division dockets.
The problem, of course, remains the VFO qualified offenders, those individuals with qualifying offenses they’re on probation for, or have as priors, even if they’re old. VFO is a deceptive term; it’s possible, and common, for someone who has never thrown a punch, or having committed a violent act a long, long time ago, to be held as VFO, even if they’re on probation for a non-violent charge. The majority of the cases being set for trial next week seem to involve VFO’s accused of “technical” violations of the type highlighted in the Gardiner article above, not involving new arrests while on probation. Since the pandemic started, the SAO and many judges have been resistant to stating that many of these Defendants are “not a danger to the community,” the requirement to a VFO being spared prison and put back out onto their original probationary or modified new terms. This has caused a backlog in the jails and, it’s believed, jumpstarted the need for the extremely short-noticed FVOP reopening next week.
The status hearings we’ve observed thus far in anticipation of next week’s trials have yielded few surprises. As previously stated, the easy ones are being handled, while prison time is being doled out on others. Many stiff prison offers are being rejected, and those cases are keeping their previous haphazardly assigned trial dates for next week, since the judges don’t seem willing to state any type of position on dangerousness, preferring to wait until next week. Anyone hoping for more flexibility on behalf of the SAO under Harold Pryor in these situations, given the “technical” nature of most of the violations, are most certainly disappointed.
And now the main point: next week’s live-Zoomed trials offer a historic opportunity for anyone interested in criminal justice reform to easily witness how a large segment of the mass incarceration problem, specifically violations of probation of a technical nature, are traditionally handled in Broward County. There are, of course, plenty of serious offenders who have earned a trip to prison, but there are many others who may be sent up the river for long stretches that many believe shouldn’t be under a modern, reform-minded State Attorney.
Be sure to spread the word. A lot of things have gone down unnoticed in courtrooms across the country over the years that have contributed to the mass incarceration crisis that would shock the average layperson, but with Zoom, can now be easily observed from the comfort of home or office. It’s just about the only good thing we can think of coming out out of the pandemic, so if you’re committed to change, spread the word, and stay tuned here for dockets and Zoom links for next week’s Zoom FVOP trials …