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State v. Reyes

Decided: January 22, 1986.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
RAYMOND REYES, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



On appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Middlesex County.

Furman, Cohen and Ashbey. The opinion of the court was delivered by Cohen, J.A.D.

Cohen

[207 NJSuper Page 132] After pleading guilty to a number of charges, defendant was sentenced to a probationary term with the condition that he successfully complete an eighteen-month residential drug program. He entered the program but was discharged after four months. The probation department sent him notice to report to his probation officer, but he did not appear. He was then charged with violating his probation for failure to complete the drug program and for failing to report. After a hearing, Judge Hoffman determined that the violations had taken place, concluded

that defendant's probation should be revoked, and imposed a term of incarceration. Defendant appealed.

Before us, defendant makes three arguments. The first is that the State's evidence was inadmissible hearsay and insufficient to support the court's findings. The second is that the reason for his discharge from the drug program was an alleged violation of a rule prohibiting sexual contact between program participants. Such a rule, defendant argues, restricts constitutionally protected conduct and, further, is not reasonably related to the rehabilitative purposes of N.J.S.A. 2C:45-1. Third, defendant argues that he is entitled to credit against his term of imprisonment for the time he spent in the drug program before discharge. We agree with Judge Hoffman's rejection of defendant's contentions and therefore affirm.

The evidence was the testimony of Senior Probation Officer Gloria Brennan. She was not defendant's probation officer, who was on sick leave at the time of the hearing. She testified from probation department records that two letters were sent to defendant instructing him to report on a certain date. One went to an address supplied by defendant, was not delivered, and was returned with the notation, "addressee unknown." The other was received at defendant's parents' home. Defendant did not report at the time he was told to do so. He did, however, come into the probation office some fifteen days later for an unscheduled visit.

Ms. Brennan also testified that she had no first-hand knowledge of the problem at the drug program. She said that Paul Rivera, a program counselor, had advised in writing and by telephone that defendant was guilty of repeated "intolerable" behavior and was ultimately discharged for violating a program rule prohibiting sexual contact between program participants. Rivera said that a program participant told him she was present on two occasions when her roommate had sexual contact with defendant. Rivera further said that defendant was aware of

the prohibition, having passed a required test of knowledge of the program's rules.

The State offered no evidence beyond Ms. Brennan's testimony. Defendant offered no evidence at all.

Revocation of probation is not a stage in a criminal prosecution, but, rather, a part of the corrections process. However, the loss of liberty potentially involved is a serious deprivation which requires that the probationer be accorded due process of law. Gagnon v. Scarpelli, 411 U.S. 778, 93 S. Ct. 1756, 36 L. Ed. 2d 656 (1973). As in parole revocation proceedings, there are fundamental but qualified rights to receive notice and disclosure of the basis for the charges, to be heard and present evidence, to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses (unless the hearer reasonably finds good cause for not allowing confrontation), to have a neutral and detached hearing body and an explanation of the decision. Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 92 S. Ct. 2593, 33 L. Ed. 2d 484 (1972). New Jersey's statute embodies these rights and adds a further one of representation by counsel. N.J.S.A. 2C:45-4. Federal probationers receive the same benefit. 18 U.S.C.A. ยง 3006A(b). The United States Constitution does not require counsel in all cases. Gagnon, 411 U.S. at 787-790, 93 S. Ct. at 1762-1763, 36 L. Ed. 2d at 664-666.

A violation-of-probation hearing is summary in nature. State v. Serio, 168 N.J. Super. 394, 399 (Law Div.1979). That was plainly expressed in the repealed N.J.S.A. 2A:168-4 and is implicit in the current N.J.S.A. 2C:45-3a(4). In both Gagnon (involving probation), and Morrissey (involving parole), the Supreme Court stressed the informal and flexible nature of revocation hearings and the lack of need or justification for the range of protections available to defendants in criminal trials. In Morrissey, the court said, 408 U.S. at 489, 92 S. Ct. at 2604, 33 L. Ed. 2d at 499;

. . . the process should be flexible enough to consider evidence including letters, affidavits, and other material that would not be admissible in an adversary criminal trial.

New Jersey has not imposed stricter state constitutional standards on probation violation hearings than the United States Constitution demands. See State v. Generoso, 156 N.J. Super. 540, 546 (App.Div.1978); State v. Johnson, 133 N.J. Super. 457 (App.Div.1975); State v. Zachowski, 53 N.J. Super. 431, 440 (App.Div.1959).

In probation violation hearings, the court has two separate functions, fact-finding and disposition. The first issue a court must decide is whether a violation of probation occurred. See Douglas v. Buder, 412 U.S. 430, 93 S. Ct. 2199, 37 L. Ed. 2d 52 (1973). The second is what to do about a violation that it finds took place.*fn1 If the charged violation is a conviction of defendant for another offense, the proofs will normally be brief indeed.*fn2 If the charged violation is itself non-criminal, then the court must determine if it is

satisfied that the defendant has inexcusably failed to comply with a substantial requirement imposed as a condition [of probation]. [ N.J.S.A. 2C:45-3a(4)].

By what standard is a court to be "satisfied" that a violation occurred? Proof of violation ...


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