ORLANDO — Robert Allen Caperilla wiped tears from his eyes and his voice trembled and choked a bit as he said two words: “Yes, mam.”
He had been asked if he was born in Orlando. He looked frightened at that moment, standing just feet away from the person determining his fate, Judge Alice Blackwell.
Blackwell, the presiding judge of the probation court at the Orange County Courthouse, looked at the 29-year-old man wearing a dark blue jail jumpsuit, his legs shackled, and his hands held together by handcuffs so that he had some difficulty wiping the tears from his eyes.
“I find you to be in violation of your probation,” Blackwell said. “And I hereby revoke your probation.”
Caperilla was one of a half dozen inmates, all wearing the same dark blue jail jumpsuit from Orange County Corrections, appearing in the probation court this morning. Each case represented an individual who had been arrested, pled guilty to the charge, and had been placed on probation. Their appearance before Judge Blackwell was an indication that their probation — their ability to live in their own home or apartment, to hold a job, to be with their family — was suddenly hanging by a thread.
The freedom offered by probation — a break given to those who had otherwise been facing a jail or prison sentence — disappears if the inmate is judged by their probation officer and the legal system to have failed at probation, or failed to take it seriously. At that point, regardless of where the inmate is at that point in their life, including what kind of job they have or if they have a family to support, their freedom can be taken away.
Caperilla was booked at the Orange County jail on July 21, for a charge of violation of probation. His original arrest dates back to November 2010, when he was charged with driving with a revoked license as a habitual offender, tampering with physical evidence, possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting arrest without violence. He pleaded no contest to the charges and was placed on probation on Feb. 18.
This morning, only five months after receiving that sentence, he was in probation court. His court-appointed attorney, Robert Powell, had already worked out an agreement with the state prosecutor’s office.
“He will be entering a no contest plea to a charge of violation of probation,” Powell told the court. In return, the state had agreed to revoke his probation, and impose a six month sentence in the Orange County jail.
Before sentencing, the judge asked Caperilla a series of questions — whether he had spoken to his attorney, whether he was satisfied with his attorney’s legal representation, whether he understood the proceedings.
She also asked if he was under the influence of drugs, and he said no.
“Do you need medicine to think clearly,” Blackwell asked.
“No, mam,” Caperilla said.
“How well do you read?” she asked.
“Very good,” he said.
The judge also informed Caperilla that “You have a right to have a hearing, which is like a trial,” but he waived that right. When the judge asked where he was born, Caperilla’s voice began to choke, and his eyes welled up with tears. Moments later, that prompted his attorney to offer an explanation.
“Mr. Caperilla is very emotional today,” he told the judge. “His girlfriend is 11 weeks pregnant, and it’s causing him some stress here today.”
Powell said his client would like to be placed on work release during his six month sentence so he could continue to support his family. But Blackwell noted that he was arrested on July 2 in Polk County and charged with battery, then transferred to the Orange County jail for violating his probation.
Blackwell said it was unlikely he would get work release with a battery charge.
“I’ll ask that he be screened for it, but it’s unlikely he will qualify because of the new battery charge out of Polk County,” she said.
Caperilla was still wiping tears from his face as Blackwell imposed his sentence.
“I sentence you to six months in the Orange County jail,” she said. “There will be no further probation to follow.”
She also imposed $250 in court costs on Caperilla, which included $100 for the cost of the prosection, $100 for the cost of his defense, and $50 in administrative costs.
“You’ll have to pay all those to Orange County Collections Court after you get out of jail,” she said, and asked Caperilla how much he could start paying each month. He shrugged and said he had no idea at this point.
“You can come back within 10 days (of release) and set up your payment plan,” Blackwell said.
Caperilla was one of the few inmates that got taken back to Orange County Corrections knowing his sentence. Several had their cases postponed until next month so their court-appointed attorneys could have more time to work on their case.
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