Judges reverse probation revocation due to inadmissible evidence

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Because a man’s probation was revoked based on unsubstantiated evidence, the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the revocation Friday.

Deriq Watters was on probation in Howard County when he was allegedly arrested in Marion County. Watters told his probation officer that it was not him and the case would be dismissed. The state filed a petition to revoke Watters’ suspended sentence based on the probation officer’s belief that Watters had committed the new offense.

At the hearing, the state submitted two uncertified documents: an abstract of judgment convicting Watters of Class B felony robbery in Marion County and a purported plea agreement resolving that issue. Watters objected to both, claiming they were inadmissible hearsay because they were uncertified.

The trial court overruled and entered the exhibits into evidence. Watters was ordered to serve the remainder of his suspended sentence in the Department of Correction.

Judge Melissa May pointed out that there are no certified copies, affidavits or testimony to substantiate the exhibits offered into evidence. The probation officer never testified she had done anything to corroborate the validity of the documents she received by email.

“While trial courts have the discretion to admit hearsay evidence at a probation revocation hearing, the admission must not violate the due process standards provided by the United States Supreme Court,” May wrote. “We decline to extend the lowered bar for admission of hearsay at probation revocation hearings to include evidence with no ‘indicia of reliability.’ Although there is no bright line test of this reliability, testimony of the parties directly involved, affidavits of parties directly involved, and certified copies would have sufficed without putting an undue burden on the State. As the State did not provide any of those indicia of reliability herein, we hold the evidence was inadmissible.”

The case is Deriq Watters v. State of Indiana, 34A02-1403-CR-215.

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