COA: Court erred in admitting probable cause affidavit

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A trial court should not have admitted a probable cause affidavit that contained multiple layers of hearsay at a probation revocation hearing, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded Wednesday.

David Robinson appealed the revocation of his probation. He was on probation for a battery conviction when he was arrested and charged following a domestic dispute with his girlfriend. The girlfriend told her story to Lawrence Police officer Brian Sharp, who then relayed it to Lawrence Police detective Thomas Zentz, who wrote up the probable cause affidavit.

The state filed notices of probation violations, one of which included the incident between Robinson and his girlfriend. At a bifurcated probation revocation hearing, the trial court allowed the probable cause affidavit by Zentz to be admitted over Robinson’s objections. Zentz, Sharp and Robinson’s girlfriend were never called to testify. The trial court found Robinson violated his probation because of the arrest, as well as not complying with counseling and drug testing requirements.

The appellate judges agreed with Robinson that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the probable cause affidavit because it contained multiple layers of hearsay and was unreliable evidence. Even though the appeal is moot as Robinson has since served his home detention for the violation, the COA took the appeal because it is an issue that is likely to occur. The judges also noted none of their prior cases directly address the particular facts and circumstances found in this case.

In this case, Zentz stated facts as told by Latonia Green, Robinson’s girlfriend, to Sharp, who relayed them to Zentz. Zentz never observed injuries on Green or any other fact or circumstance of the alleged attack, wrote Judge Carr Darden. The trial court also never explained why Zentz’s affidavit, which is full of hearsay within hearsay within hearsay, was reliable. The trial court also incorrectly compared an arrest to a revocation of probation when deciding to allow the affidavit.

“The former involves temporary incarceration before a hearing where the defendant is afforded the full panoply of due process rights. The latter, however, involves potential long term incarceration based on hearsay. That hearsay should be substantially reliable,” wrote the judge in David Robinson v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1101-CR-13.

Based on the facts and circumstances in this case, the probable cause affidavit wasn’t substantially reliable. However, the state presented and the trial court found there were additional factors supporting the revocation of Robinson’s probation, so the COA affirmed.


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