Ambiguous probation condition leads to reversal of violation finding

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the revocation of a woman’s probation after two judges ruled the probation condition at issue is ambiguous regarding whether and when she had to report an arrest while on probation for a charge that allegedly occurred before the probation began.

Jacqueline Jackson was on probation in February 2014 after pleading guilty in 2012 to neglect of a dependent. While on probation, she was arrested and charged with having committed child molesting in January 2012, before she was sentenced and placed on probation for the neglect of dependent charge.

One condition of her probation says that ““Violation of any law (city, state, or federal) is a violation of your probation; within forty-eight (48) hours of being arrested or charged with a new criminal offense, you must contact your Probation Officer.” Jackson did not notify her probation officer until 30 days after her arrest.

The trial court revoked her probation and ordered her to serve time in the Department of Correction.

Jackson contended that she was only required to notify her probation officer of any arrests arising from criminal offenses she committed during the probationary term; the state believed the probation condition required her to notify her probation officer within 48 hours of being arrested regardless of when the alleged offense occurred.

The majority in Jacqueline A. Jackson v. State of Indiana, 34A04-1409-CR-455, agreed with Jackson that the probation condition is ambiguous and the use of the semicolon means the two independent clauses are closely related. The clauses would be unrelated if they had been separated by a period, Judge Edward Najam noted.

“It seems illogical for the conditions of a probation order to relate back to conduct that occurred prior to the order. Nevertheless, the condition could have been unambiguously written to require that Jackson report any arrest, even an arrest based on an ‘old criminal offense’ that first manifests itself during the probationary period. But it was not,” Najam wrote.

Judge Cale Bradford dissented based on his interpretation that the language of the condition creates two independent duties and thus, Jackson was required to report her new arrest within 48 hours to her probation officer. Jackson’s probation was revoked based on her delay in notifying her probation officer, Bradford wrote, not the new arrest. Thus, the state presented sufficient evidence she violated her probation.


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