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Violation of Probation for an Uninspired Job Search

Violation of Probation for an Uninspired Job SearchFor those of you no longer in school, isn’t it great that we don’t have a test today, or tomorrow? Have you noticed that kids these days are taking way too many tests? Two things seem obvious: 1) everybody agrees there’s too much testing, and 2) no one is doing anything about it. I would add a third point here, which is the fact that kids don’t learn anything from all this testing. In other words, if you compare students who have taken lots of tests to students who have taken only a few–the kids who had less testing are better off. In law school, we had one exam at the end of each semester. No quizzes. No midterms. One final exam, that’s it.

There are a few countries out there that, supposedly, have the whole “education thing” figured out. Take Finland, for example (teachers love Finland, right?). Kids in Finland spend very little time in school, and very little time on standardized tests. But, these kids consistently score top marks worldwide (typically battling for the top spot with Singapore). So, how many standardized tests must Finish kids take per year? None. Not one standardized test in elementary school. Not one standardized test in middle school. Finland kids take one standardized test in their final year of high school. That’s it. I know what you’re thinking: how will we know Little Johnny is doing ok?

Now, before you decide to overhaul our entire American school system, it bears mentioning that Finland has a population of 5 million. We have 326 million people. And, there are pockets of the United States that score higher than Finland, so should Finland adopt the educational system of those parts of our country which score higher than theirs? Where does this comparison game end?

I remember a test in middle school that, basically, was designed to see if we kids could follow instructions. Here’s the basic format:

Teacher: “Alright class, take out your pencils. Read all the instructions before writing down your answers.”

Test: “1. What is 12 times 14? 2. What is the capital of Texas? 3. What is your principal’s name? . . . 20. Don’t write any of your answers on this sheet.”

Yes, this is a sneaky test, and the teacher paces the classroom with a big smirk as the kids frantically write down their answers. Eventually, I caught on to this trickery. I would lock eyes with the teacher as if to say “I can follow instructions, I’m with you, look at my idiot classmates not following instructions….” [legal segue coming up] This same sort of failure to understand the “meaning of words” is why we’ll be examining a violation of probation case today. We have a probation officer, a prosecutor, and a judge–none of whom can follow fairly simple instructions. Shocking, I know. Fuentes v. State, 2017 Fla. App. LEXIS 7801 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2017).

Fuentes violated his five years of probation and received a twenty year prison sentence. His violation came in two forms. First, he was accused of a new crime, uttering a forged instrument (we call this a “substantive violation”). Second, Fuentes was violated because he failed to “keep a job application log with a minimum of 5 jobs per week (we call this a “technical violation”).” Id. Now, for those probationers who have not been able to find work, this is fairly common special condition of probation–you must at least try to find work. It is kind of laughable that the very same court that convicts you of a felony then expects you to find work. Let’s face it, there aren’t many employers out there willing to hire convicted felons who are under the supervision of the Department of Corrections. This is a shame, for many reasons. And oddly enough, those employers who do give probationers a chance end up hiring more and more probationers because they know these folks are on their best behavior.

So, Fuentes was violated because his probation officer claimed in the VOP Affidavit that he failed to “timely submit weekly job application logs to his probation officer” (FYI, the “VOP affidavit” is a sworn document that spells out the details of the violation). Id. The trial court found Fuentes guilty of violating this condition of his probation, agreeing with the probation officer that Fuentes never submitted his weekly job application logs to his probation officer.

Remember that test I took in middle school, where the teacher asked me to read the entire test before writing something down? This judge must have failed this particular test. This prosecutor must have failed this particular test. Yes, the whole “words have meaning” thing can get lost on folks, even folks with Juris Doctorates.

Let’s start with the basics. Was Fuentes ordered to submit weekly job application logs to his probation officer? No. Let’s read the court’s order one more time, and see if you see anything in there which requires such weekly submissions: probationer must keep a job application log with a minimum of 5 jobs per week.

Hum. I don’t see where Fuentes was required to submit anything to probation. And, the appellate court agreed, finding that “we reverse the trial court’s determination that appellant violated his probation by failing to submit to the probation officer, on a weekly basis, his job application logs. On appeal the State commendably conceded this was error; while the order of probation required [Fuentes] to keep job application logs on a weekly basis, it did not require [him] to submit the job application logs on a weekly basis.” id.

Yes, it can be tough sometimes to interpret words with multiple syllables, and sentences with commas. Good thing we have appellate courts to step in and translate every now and then.

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