In a unanimous decision five justices on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed an Appeals Court decision pertaining to probation violaton/revocation matters. See Commonwealth v. Ruiz, Slip Opinion March 31, 2009. In Ruiz the Court found the following facts:
Stemming from two incidents of domestic violence Ruiz pleaded guilty to seven separate crimes in the Superior Court. One count required that Ruiz serve five to five and one half years in state prison. On the remaining cases Ruiz was sentenced to probation to commence from and after (consecutive) the period of incarceration. The probationary period was for three years with one of the conditions being that Ruiz not contact the victim either directly or indirectly. The sentence imposed was at the request of both the district attorney and the defense. During the period of incarceration Ruiz wrote letters to the victim. A probation surrender hearing was scheduled. The judge found that Ruiz had violated the terms of his probation by contacting the victim through the letters. He imposed and additional sentence of one year to one year. Ruiz appealed from the ruling. The Appeals Court affirmed and the Supreme Judicial Court accepted review of the case and reversed.
Typically probation commences once the defendant is released from incarceration. A defendant can be sentenced to probation concurrent with his committed sentence. However a sentence imposing both incarceration and probation concurrent with the incarceration is not common. Such a sentence might be imposed where there is a concern that the defendant will cause trouble during the period of incarceration. This case makes clear however that any condition of probation imposed concurrently with a committed sentence must be clear on the record and the defendant must have notice of that condition.
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