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Justices split on imprisonment for violating probation

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The state must prove a probationer accused of violating a term involving a payment by not paying did it recklessly, knowingly or intentionally. The burden is on the probationer to show an inability to pay, the Indiana Supreme Court decided in an opinion handed down Wednesday afternoon.

Dannie Ray Runyon appealed the trial court’s revocation of his probation and reinstatement of the six of the eight years he was sentenced to for Class C felony nonsupport of a dependent child and owing more than $15,000 in child support arrearages. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

In Dannie Ray Runyon v. State of Indiana, No. 57S04-1006-CR-317, the justices held that it’s up to the state to prove that a probationer violated a term of probation and that if the term involved a payment requirement, that the failure to pay was reckless, knowing, or intentional. Based on Woods v. State, 892 N.E.2d 637 (Ind. 2008), they ruled that a defendant probationer has the burden to show facts related to an inability to pay and indicating sufficient bona fide efforts to pay so as to persuade the trial court that he or she shouldn’t be imprisoned.

Runyon’s probation revocation hearing happened in two segments. At the first one, Runyon admitted he violated his probation conditions by not making required payments. His attorney asked for a continuance because Runyon had pending employment. At the second segment two weeks later, Runyon claimed to have a job but couldn’t show a written job offer. Runyon claimed he had a hard time finding work after he was laid off from his manufacturing job in the RV industry. The trial court asked Runyon about his failure to make payments when he was employed before being laid off and asked about other resource possibilities.

The trial judge ordered he serve six years of his sentence, which the majority declined to find was an abuse of discretion. The majority also found that Runyon’s admittance that he violated his probation conditions and didn’t make payments was sufficient to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that Runyon violated his probation and he knowingly failed to pay, wrote Justice Brent Dickson. They also concluded that Runyon didn’t meet his burden of proof to show inability to pay.

But Justice Frank Sullivan dissented on these issues. He didn’t agree the state met its burden of proving Runyon’s not paying was reckless, knowing or intentional just because he admitted he had violated probation and didn’t make the required payments. Justice Sullivan also thought Runyon sufficiently established his inability to pay by explaining his job loss, inability to get a new job, and that the low wages he made when he was working all prevented him from making payments.

Justice Sullivan agreed Runyon was out of compliance with the terms of his probation, but didn’t believe it was lawful to incarcerate him based on these facts.

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