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Judges divided over prison term for probation violation

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The Indiana Court of Appeals was divided in affirming a man’s revocation of probation and order that he serve 12 years of his suspended sentence, with the dissenting judge finding this decision will penalize his child who is relying on support payments.

Johnny Ray Jenkins challenged the determination that he violated the terms and conditions of his probation, claiming the state didn’t sufficiently show that he knowingly failed to pay court costs or probation fees. He didn’t challenge the finding that he violated probation by failing to timely report to the probation department, which on its own would be sufficient to support his probation revocation, noted Judge Edward Najam in Johnny Ray Jenkins v. State of Indiana, No. 48A04-1102-CR-64.

Jenkins admitted he didn’t pay the court costs and fees and was able to hold a job and set up child support for his child. Jenkins never pointed to any mitigating evidence on the record to explain why he hadn’t paid those obligations, so the majority concluded that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in finding he violated his terms of his probation by not paying the costs.

Najam and Judge Melissa May also upheld the order Jenkins serve 12 years of his previously suspended sentence, pointing to the fact that Jenkins admitted that he failed to pay the court costs and fees, he had not reported to probation for more than one year and he had four prior probation violations.

“Again, probation is a matter of grace, not a right,” wrote Najam.

Judge Patricia Riley dissented on the matter of the 12-year sentence, arguing for the trial court to impose an alternative sentence. She pointed out that Jenkins was able to get a job and set up child support for his child after he was released from prison.

“Returning him to the Indiana Department of Correction for twelve years, not only punishes Jenkins for improving his life while he was on probation, but also penalizes his child who is relying on the support payments,” she wrote. “Furthermore, indiscriminately sending him to the DOC for failing to pay some minimal court fees and costs without taking into account his undeniable rehabilitation, his employment status, and the contributions to his child’s life, will bring us onto the slippery slope of a debtor’s prison.”

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