RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – Collateral Estoppel

RI Criminal Defense Practice Manual CoverRHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE
A Practice Manual, 4th Edition
© John E. MacDonald

PROBATION VIOLATION HEARINGS

Collateral Estoppel

R.I. GEN. LAWS § 12-19-18. Termination of imprisonment on deferred sentence on failure of grand jury to indict–Determinations of insufficient evidence lack of probable cause or exercise of prosecutional discretion

Whenever any person has been sentenced to imprisonment for violation of a deferred sentence by reason of the alleged commission of a felony and the grand jury has failed to return any indictment or an information has not been filed on the charge which was specifically alleged to have constituted the violation of the deferred sentence the sentence to imprisonment for the alleged violation of the deferred sentence shall, on motion made to the court on behalf of the person so sentenced, be quashed, and imprisonment shall be immediately terminated, and the deferred sentence shall have same force and effect as if no sentence to imprisonment had been imposed.
Whenever any person, after an evidentiary hearing, has been sentenced to imprisonment for violation of a suspended sentence or probationary period by reason of the alleged commission of a felony or misdemeanor said sentence of imprisonment shall, on a motion made to the court on behalf of the person so sentenced, be quashed, and imprisonment shall be terminated when any of the following occur on the charge which was specifically alleged to have constituted the violation:
After trial person is found “not guilty” or a motion for judgment of acquittal or to dismiss is made and granted pursuant to Superior or District Court Rule of Criminal Procedure 29;
After hearing evidence, a “no true bill” is returned by the grand jury;
After consideration by an assistant or special assistant designated by the attorney general, a “no information” based upon a lack of probable cause is returned;
A motion to dismiss is made and granted pursuant to the Rhode Island general laws § 12-12-1.7 and/or Superior Court Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.1; or
The charge fails to proceed in District or Superior Court under circumstances where the state is indicating a lack of probable cause, or circumstances where the state or its agents believe there is doubt about the culpability of the accused.
This section shall apply to all individuals sentenced to imprisonment for violation of a suspended sentence or probationary period by reason of the alleged commission of a felony or misdemeanor and shall not alter the ability of the court to revoke a suspended sentence or probationary period for an allegation of conduct that does not rise to the level of criminal conduct.
eff. June 12, 2010.

As of this time, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has not ruled on a case involving the probation reform effectuated June 12, 2010. Until then, the prospective and retrospective application of the statute, and the precedential value of the preexisting case law cited below, remains uncertain. Thus far, only one state case has thoroughly explored the new law:

State v. Nelson, Nos. P2/03-2826A, P2/04-1539A, 2010 WL 3455176 (R.I. Super. August 31, 2010). Motion to quash denied to imprisoned probation violator.

“Defendant argues that the amendment applies to all persons who were imprisoned on a sentence of violation as of the date of passage. The Court disagrees and finds that the amendment does not have retroactive application.”
“Without determining the constitutionality of the amendment when applied prospectively, the Court concludes that to apply the 2010 amendment retroactively clearly would constitute an unconstitutional exercise of judicial power by the General Assembly.”
“The amendment would.interfere with the Court’s ability to control its own decision to place a defendant on probation with the requirement that he or she keep the peace and be of good behavior and would interfere with the Court’s determination as to whether a defendant’s conduct fell beneath that standard. For these reasons, the Court has grave concerns about whether the amendment when applied prospectively violates the separation of powers provisions of the State and Federal Constitutions.”
State v. Smith, 721 A.2d 847 (R.I. 1998). A verdict of not guilty does not prevent the trial court from finding the defendant to be a violator of probation based upon the same conduct. In Smith, the parties agreed to convene a violation hearing after the jury trial. The jury found the defendant not guilty and the state proceeded on the violation hearing one week later. Based upon the testimony at trial, the trial judge found defendant to be a violator of probation and ordered her to serve a portion of her suspended sentence. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

State v. Hie, 688 A.2d 283 (R.I. 1997). A court may take judicial notice of another court’s finding of violation in revoking defendant’s probation. In Hie, defendant was found to be a violator of probation after a full hearing in district court. In the 32(f) proceeding in Superior Court for the same charges, the judge took judicial notice of the District Court violation and revoked defendant’s probation. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

State v. Gautier, 871 A.2d 347 (R.I. 2005). R.I.S.C. held that the trial justice’s factual finding at a probation-revocation hearing, effectively absolving defendant of criminal responsibility for the murder alleged by the state as the basis for its probation-revocation notice, did not collaterally estop defendant’s prosecution for murder. This case overrules State v. Chase, 588 A.2d 120 (R.I. 1991), and abrogates State v. Wiggs, 635 A.2d 272 (R.I. 1993).

“[W]e believe that further application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel to bar re-litigation of a criminal charge, following a determination during a probation-revocation hearing that is adverse to the state, inequitably overlooks and misconceives the inherent and important differences between those proceedings and criminal trials.” Id. at 358.
“Mindful of the critical differences in both the purposes of and procedures employed during probation-revocation hearings and criminal trials, we are of the opinion that further application of the Chase doctrine would strongly counteract the significant public interest in the preservation of the criminal trial process “as the intended forum for ultimate determinations as to guilt or innocence of newly alleged crimes.” Id. at 359 (quoting Lucido v. Superior Court, 795 P.2d 1223, 1230-31 (Cal. 1990)).
State v. Tetreault, 973 A.2d 489 (R.I. 2009). Defendant was arrested for breaking and entering into a store. Subsequent probation violation conviction resulted in defendant being sentenced to serve four years of his suspended sentence. When defendant was later acquitted of the breaking and entering charge at trial, defendant appealed to have the violation reexamined. On remand, trial court denied relief and R.I.S.C. affirmed.

“…since only reasonably satisfactory evidence is required for a probation violation, a defendant’s probation may be revoked based on an offense of which the defendant has been acquitted after a criminal trial.” Id. at 492 n. 4 (quoting State v. DiChristofaro, 842 A.2d 1075, 1078 (R.I. 2004)).

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