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Trial court used wrong legal standard in revoking probation

December 28, 2011

The Indiana Court of Appeals has ordered a trial court to use the proper legal standard to determine whether a woman violated her probation when she was arrested for theft. The trial court used a probable cause standard instead of the legal standard of a preponderance of evidence.

In Kimberly Heaton v. State of Indiana, No. 48A02-1104-CR-404, Kimberly Heaton argued that Madison Superior Judge Dennis D. Carroll used the incorrect legal standard – probable cause – when revoking her probation and ordering her to serve 18 months of her previously suspended sentence in prison. Heaton was on probation after pleading guilty to Class D felony receiving stolen property. She was later arrested for Class D felony theft and the state filed a petition to revoke her probation.

An evidentiary hearing was held on March 8, 2011, but Heaton was unable to attend due to pregnancy complications. A week later, she was able to testify. The trial court found her to be in violation of four terms of her probation.

Appellate Judge Nancy Vaidik noted that courts had interpreted Indiana’s probation revocation statute before 1983 as requiring a probable cause determination for determining whether a new offense was committed. That statute was revised in 1983 and now says that probation violations must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. Some cases post-1983 have relied on cases that cite the old statute, but those cases are relying on out-of-date law.

“We note that today the correct legal standard in determining if a person on probation has committed another offense is a preponderance of the evidence, as is articulated in the current Indiana Code section 35-38-2-3(e),” wrote Vaidik.

The trial court here used the wrong legal standard, so the appellate court couldn’t be sure if the judge would have imposed the same 18-month sentence. The COA instructed the trial court to use the preponderance of the evidence legal standard to determine whether Heaton violated her probation with the new arrest and resentence her in light of the new findings.

 

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