Casey Anthony must return to Orlando within two weeks to begin serving a year of probation for a check-fraud conviction, even though the Probation Department had said she already completed the requirement, a Florida judge ruled on Friday.
Chief Judge Belvin Perry said Ms. Anthony’s earlier period of supervision by the Probation Department was not real probation since it was conducted while she was still in jail.
“To permit the defendant … to avoid serving probation now, would take a lawfully imposed sentence and make it a mockery of justice,” Perry wrote in his 13-page ruling.
“This would allow a defendant to take advantage of a scrivener’s error and be rewarded,” he said. “This is not the message the courts want to send to the public or defendants.”
The decision disrupts apparent attempts by Anthony to maintain a low profile since her acquittal last month on charges that she murdered her two-year-old daughter, Caylee.
The acquittal sparked outrage among many who have been following the case since Caylee’s disappearance three years ago and the discovery of the toddler’s skeletal remains in December 2008. Anthony has been the target of numerous threats, including death threats, and has been living in an undisclosed location.
Judge Perry gave Anthony until noon, Friday, August 26 to personally present herself to the Probation Department in downtown Orlando. Her one year of supervision begins the day she reports.
The judge also directed the Probation Department to keep her residential and other personal information confidential in recognition of the threats made against her.
Perry noted that a recent poll concluded that Anthony was the most hated person in the United States. “This court is very mindful that it is a high probability that there are many that would like to see physical harm visited upon the defendant,” Perry wrote.
Anthony faces standard terms of probation. She must maintain a job and report to her probation officer at least once a month. In addition, she is barred from excessive use of alcohol. Her home may be searched upon request. Any illegal activity would violate her probation and could land her back in jail.
The probation issue arose as an apparent afterthought two weeks ago when the judge who presided over an earlier check-fraud case discovered that Anthony was not serving a one-year term of probation.
The judge, Stan Strickland, had sentenced Anthony to 412 days in jail with credit for time served plus a year of probation upon her release. But Strickland’s signed order did not include the requirement that probation be served “once released.”
Instead of waiting until her release from jail, the Probation Department decided to begin its supervision of Anthony in February 2010 while she was still in jail in pre-trial detention pending her approaching murder trial.
At the conclusion of the year-long supervision, probation officials sent a letter to Anthony notifying her that “you completed your term of supervision on 1/24/2011… and are no longer under the supervision of the Department of Corrections.”
Two weeks ago, upon discovering Anthony was not serving her probation, Judge Strickland issued a corrected sentence, making clear that he intended for her to serve probation after being released from jail.
The action was unusual because Anthony had already been released from jail.
Anthony’s defense lawyers filed a motion to overturn Strickland’s amended sentence, arguing that their client had already served her term of supervisory probation. Another term of probation would violate the Constitution as double punishment for the same crime, they said. They also charged that Strickland’s actions were motivated by bias against Anthony.
Judge Perry did not address the bias accusation in his ruling. Instead, he characterized the central issue as a “clerical error” which, he said, Strickland had the authority to correct.
“This case does not involve additional punishment proscribed by the double jeopardy clause nor does it involve a punitive effect by requiring the defendant to serve probation twice,” Perry wrote. “The defendant was in jail and unable to meet the goals and requirements of the probationary sentence. The defendant could not comply with the standard thirteen conditions of probation while incarcerated.”
Perry said fault for the earlier term of probation lay with Anthony and her defense lawyer, Jose Baez. “It is very clear that the defendant and her attorney knew she was to start her probation upon release from the Orange County Jail. Despite this fact, they took advantage of a scrivener’s error which started the probation while she was being held in the jail pending trial,” he wrote.
“The defense should not be able to claim that they are now harmed by having the defendant serve probation at this time,” Perry said.