Man Acquitted by Jury, Still Sentenced to 15 Years

The South Florida Sun Sentinel is reporting that a man acquitted in two separate jury trials of fondling pre-teen girls has been sentenced to fifteen years in prison based upon the same evidence which amounted to a violation of his probation. The case underscores the very real possibility of being sentenced on a probation violation despite being found not guilty of the same conduct by a jury. The legal basis for such an outcome lies in the different standards of proof applied to jury trials versus that applied to hearings on violations of probation. While the standard of proof in a jury trial is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” in order to be found in violation of probation, in Florida, as in California, the prosecution bears the much lower standard of proof known as “preponderance of the evidence.” Additionally, whereas convictions on new law violations generally are determined by a jury, violations of probation (even if based upon the same evidence) are decided by a judge.  In essence, while a jury may acquit a defendant based upon a failure of the prosecution to meet the higher standard of proof, a judge considering the same evidence may still nonetheless conclude that the lower standard of proof has been met and thus sentence a defendant based upon a violation of his pre-existing probation.