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Justices uphold probation revocation for child support non-payment

March 23, 2012

A trial judge was correct in revoking a man’s probation based on his failure to pay weekly child support as a condition of his probation, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled.

In Troy R. Smith v. State of Indiana, No. 35S02-1106-CR-369, the justices unanimously affirmed Huntington Superior Judge Jeffrey Heffelfinger’s decision involving a felony case of non-support.


Troy Smith pleaded guilty in May 2007 to Class D felony of non-support of a dependent child, regarding $4,671.13 that he hadn’t paid. Though Smith remained current on his payments through November 2008, he started making partial payments on his support and arrearage or stopped periodically. His probation officer field a revocation petition in March 2010.

Concluding that Smith had violated the terms of his probation by failing to pay current support every week, the trial court revoked Smith’s probation and ordered him to serve the remainder of his three-year sentence. The Court of Appeals last year reversed, finding the state didn’t meet its burden in proving that Smith had the ability to pay and that the probation shouldn’t have been fully revoked.

The justices pointed to their decision two years ago in Runyon v. State, 939 N.E.2d 613, 616 (Ind. 2010), which dealt with a similar issue and answered many of the questions that Smith has raised in his arguments. The court noted in Runyon that state law allows probation to be revoked for a probation condition violation, but if that violation involves a financial obligation, then the probationer must have “recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally” failed to pay.

The justices determined that the trial judge is the fact finder who’s best able to reasonably conclude whether Smith met that standard in failing to pay current or past child support as required. Since Smith failed to carry his burden in convincing the trial judge, the justices found that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in revoking Smith’s probation.

 

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