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Justices split on imprisonment for violating probation

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The state must prove a probationer accused of violating a term involving a payment by not paying did it recklessly, knowingly or intentionally. The burden is on the probationer to show an inability to pay, the Indiana Supreme Court decided in an opinion handed down Wednesday afternoon.

Dannie Ray Runyon appealed the trial court’s revocation of his probation and reinstatement of the six of the eight years he was sentenced to for Class C felony nonsupport of a dependent child and owing more than $15,000 in child support arrearages. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

In Dannie Ray Runyon v. State of Indiana, No. 57S04-1006-CR-317, the justices held that it’s up to the state to prove that a probationer violated a term of probation and that if the term involved a payment requirement, that the failure to pay was reckless, knowing, or intentional. Based on Woods v. State, 892 N.E.2d 637 (Ind. 2008), they ruled that a defendant probationer has the burden to show facts related to an inability to pay and indicating sufficient bona fide efforts to pay so as to persuade the trial court that he or she shouldn’t be imprisoned.

Runyon’s probation revocation hearing happened in two segments. At the first one, Runyon admitted he violated his probation conditions by not making required payments. His attorney asked for a continuance because Runyon had pending employment. At the second segment two weeks later, Runyon claimed to have a job but couldn’t show a written job offer. Runyon claimed he had a hard time finding work after he was laid off from his manufacturing job in the RV industry. The trial court asked Runyon about his failure to make payments when he was employed before being laid off and asked about other resource possibilities.

The trial judge ordered he serve six years of his sentence, which the majority declined to find was an abuse of discretion. The majority also found that Runyon’s admittance that he violated his probation conditions and didn’t make payments was sufficient to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Runyon violated his probation and he knowingly failed to pay, wrote Justice Brent Dickson. They also concluded that Runyon didn’t meet his burden of proof to show inability to pay.

But Justice Frank Sullivan dissented on these issues. He didn’t agree the state met its burden of proving Runyon’s not paying was reckless, knowing or intentional just because he admitted he had violated probation and didn’t make the required payments. Justice Sullivan also thought Runyon sufficiently established his inability to pay by explaining his job loss, inability to get a new job, and that the low wages he made when he was working all prevented him from making payments.

Justice Sullivan agreed Runyon was out of compliance with the terms of his probation, but didn’t believe it was lawful to incarcerate him based on these facts.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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