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Revocation of probation was court error

June 5, 2012

A trial court erred when it revoked a man’s probation, because it failed to consider several factors before issuing that order, Indiana’s Court of Appeals ruled.

In James Ripps v. State of Indiana, No. 15A01-1109-CR-436, James Ripps pleaded guilty to child molesting as a Class C felony in March 2009 for molesting his son in 1997 or 1998. He was sentenced to eight years, with six years and 300 days suspended to probation.

In 2011, the state filed a probation revocation petition, alleging Ripps committed a Class D felony when he failed to comply with sex offender registry requirements. Ripps had been living within 1,000 feet of a youth program center and failed to inform all people living at his residence of his sexual conviction. Ripps admitted the violations and the trial court revoked his probation and ordered him to serve the remaining portion of his sentence in prison.

Ripps, who is terminally ill, entered an assisted living facility in March 2011 and informed the sheriff of his new address. The sheriff told Ripps that his new residence was within 1,000 feet of a public library, which qualifies as a youth program center. The state filed notice of a probation violation and arrested Ripps, and the court ordered him to serve the remainder of his sentence – two years and 266 days – in prison.

Ripps moved to correct error, contending his conviction for failure to comply with sex offender registration requirements, and the subsequent probation revocation, violated the Indiana and United States Constitutions’ prohibitions against ex post facto application of the law because the statute giving rise to such criminal act took effect in July 2006 and his qualifying offense occurred prior to that time. The trial court agreed and vacated the conviction; by that time, he had already served 1 to 1-1/2 years in prison.

The state had claimed only that Ripps committed a new crime; it had not specifically mentioned Ripps living within 1,000 feet of a youth program center.

The appellate court held that the trial court abused its discretion in revoking Ripps’ probation, given his medical condition and his attempt to adhere to the terms of his probation. The COA also held that the distance between the residential facility and the library was about 20 feet shy of 1,000 feet, and some ambiguity existed about how that distance was calculated.

 

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