RHODE ISLAND CRIMINAL DEFENSE A Practice Manual – Standard of Proof

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

PROBATION VIOLATION HEARINGS

Standard of Proof

In re Lamarine, 527 A.2d 1133 (R.I. 1987). A probation-revocation hearing is not part of the criminal prosecution process and defendant is not entitled to the full panoply of due process rights. The prosecution is not required to prove an accused’s violation of probation beyond a reasonable doubt; rather, the prosecution need only establish the violation by reasonably satisfactory evidence.

State v. Hazard, 671 A.2d 1225 (R.I. 1996). In a drive-by shooting, defendant’s probation was revoked although the victim of the shooting identified another individual as the shooter. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

“…the defendant’s mere presence in the car during the drive-by shooting would be sufficient to revoke his probation.” Id. at 1227.
State v. Godette, 751 A.2d 742, 745 (R.I. 2000). Hearing justice found that the state had not met its burden of proving defendant was in violation for driving a vehicle without the owner’s permission. The state subsequently charged defendant with possession of a stolen vehicle. The motion justice found no “identity of issues” necessary to collaterally estop the state’s prosecution. R.I.S.C. affirmed.

The hearing justice critically misconceived her role during the probation revocation hearing by rendering a specific finding regarding the defendant’s ultimate culpability for the misconduct.
It was not the role of the hearing justice to determine the validity of the specific charges against defendant. Rather, the hearing justice’s proper function is to assess “only whether in her discretion [the defendant’s] conduct on the day in question had been lacking in the required good behavior expected and required by his probationary status.” Id. at 745.
State v. Znosko, 755 A.2d 832 (R.I. 2000). An affirmative defense that absolves a defendant of criminal culpability is not necessarily dispositive at a probation hearing. Defendant got into a physical altercation at a party and stabbed the other individual, who later died. Defendant admitted to the stabbing but claimed it was in self-defense. The hearing justice gave strong consideration to defendant’s claim but, ultimately, did not find it credible. He further noted that, even if defendant was protecting himself from an unprovoked attack, the judge would still find him to be a violator because probationers “are not to be in these circumstances in the first place.”

R.I.S.C. affirmed and stated, “Although we note that these are issues that may militate in his favor at trial on the underlying charge, they are not issues that are dispositive at this time.” Id. at 835.
State v. Santiago, 799 A.2d 285, 288 (R.I. 2002) (Santiago I). R.I.S.C. held that the only relevant issue before the hearing justice was whether defendant “had been lacking in the required good behavior expected and required by his probationary status” and not whether the state had satisfactorily proven defendant’s criminal guilt for the charges forming the basis of alleged violation. Quoting State v. Gautier, 774 A.2d 882, 887 (R.I. 2001) (Gautier I).

State v. Piette, 833 A.2d 1233, 1236 (R.I. 2003). “The court’s role [in a probation-revocation proceeding] is not to determine the defendant’s criminal guilt or innocence with respect to the underlying conduct that triggered the violation hearing.”

State v. Crudup, 842 A.2d 1069, 1072 (R.I. 2004). The court’s role is to determine “whether a defendant has breached a condition of his probation by failing to keep the peace or remain on good behavior.

State v. Sylvia, 871 A.2d 954 (R.I. 2005). The burden of proof in a probation revocation hearing is considerably lower than in a criminal case.

Instead of establishing proof beyond a reasonable doubt, “the state is only required to prove to the reasonable satisfaction of the hearing justice that the defendant has violated the terms and conditions of the previously imposed probation.” Id. at 957 (
quoting State v. Anderson,
705 A.2d 996, 997 (R.I.1997)).
State v. Vieira, 883 A.2d 1146 (R.I. 2005). Defendant’s six years of good behavior did not prevent the imposition of the full nine years and six months of defendant’s unexecuted suspended sentence following an arrest for robbery and possession of a stolen vehicle.

The state has to prove only within a “reasonable degree of probability” that defendant breached the peace. Id. at 1149.
“The attack here need not be vicious to amount to a violation of probation…Evidence demonstrating within a reasonable degree of probability that defendant was involved in a scheme to rob [victim] is more than sufficient to meet the applicable standard.” Id.
State v. Forbes, 925 A.2d 929 (R.I. 2007). R.I.S.C. vacated and remanded violation judgment after determining that it was arbitrarily decided, because the hearing justice’s findings of fact were insufficient to constitute a violation. Although the hearing justice correctly perceived that his role was not to determine defendant’s guilt on his first-degree sexual assault charge, his failure to make any factual findings on the record about that conduct was unnecessary and left insufficient findings to support the adjudication.

In believing that he could not make any factual finding on the sexual assault, the hearing justice instead predicated his violation adjudication on “five significantly more benign instances of the defendant’s conduct that night,” including carrying a pocket knife, taking an acquaintance’s cell phone and refusing to give it back, and not immediately getting out of a car when asked to by a police officer. Id. at 935-36.
State v. McLaughlin, 935 A.2d 938 (R.I. 2007). The hearing justice can limit defendant’s introduction of evidence and cross-examination of witnesses to issues relevant strictly to whether defendant failed to keep the peace and remain on good behavior. In this case, hearing justice’s decision to prohibit defendant from questioning the complaining witness about her motivations to “control” him was appropriate, because witness’s alleged control over defendant’s conduct was irrelevant to whether he personally maintained good behavior.

“Although it is true that a defendant at a violation hearing is entitled to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him, it is also true that a hearing justice may, in the exercise of his or her discretion, reasonably limit the scope of cross-examination.” Id. at 942-43.
The admissibility of evidence lies within the sound discretion of the hearing justice. “Strict application of the rules of evidence is not required at a probation violation hearing.” Id. at 942 (quoting State v. Rioux, 708 A.2d 895, 898 (R.I. 1998)).
The hearing justice can draw reasonable inferences from the evidence presented and assess the credibility of witnesses to determine whether defendant violated the terms of his probation.

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