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Failure to Answer Your Door Is Not Always Grounds to Violate Your Community Control

Were you found in violation of your community control for not answering your door when your probation officer came by to conduct a curfew check?  If so, you may be able to avoid revocation of your community control and a resultant prison sentence.

In Edwards v. State, Mr. Edwards was on community control with numerous conditions.  One of those conditions required him to be at his residence every day between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.  Edwards’ probation officer, Christine Ashcraft, performed two curfew checks on Edwards. The first was on April 7 at 5:00 a.m. Before approaching Edwards’s house, Officer Ashcraft called the phone number in Edwards’s file, which was his sister’s cell phone. No one answered, and Officer Ashcraft left a voicemail.

Ashcraft then approached the house and noticed the door was slightly open. She knocked and called into the house.  No one responded. Ashcraft heard the television on inside, but didn’t see anyone inside. After a few minutes, Officer Ashcraft again called the number in the file. This time, Edwards’s sister answered. Officer Ashcraft told Edwards’s sister she was at the house to conduct a curfew check on Edwards.  The sister informed Ashcraft she was not at the house. After speaking with Edwards’s sister, Officer Ashcraft waited another few minutes to see if anyone would come to the door. No one did. After spending a total of approximately ten minutes at the house, Ashcraft left.

Five days later, at approximately 5:30 a.m., Officer Ashcraft performed a second curfew check at Edwards’ house. The door to the house was again slightly ajar.  But this time Officer Ashcraft could see a male figure, whom she did not recognize, sleeping on the couch in the front room. As before, Ashcraft knocked on the door and called into the house. No one answered, and the man on the couch did not awaken. This time, Ashcraft spent a total of approximately five to seven minutes at the house.

Based on these two occasions, Edwards was alleged to have violated special condition nine of his community control.

At the violation hearing, Edwards testified he was home asleep when Officer Ashcraft had conducted the two curfew checks. Edwards’s mother also testified  Edwards had been home sleeping, that he was “a hard sleeper,” and that she had not heard anyone knocking or calling into the house on either morning. Edwards’s sister testified on April 7 she was awake getting ready for work around 5:00 a.m. but heard no one knocking or calling into the house. She further testified on April 12, she had arrived home from her boyfriend’s house at around 5:00 or 6:00 a.m. and had seen Edwards and his brother sleeping on the couch.

The trial court found Edwards to be in violation of his community control.  It was revoked and he was sentenced to prison.  Edwards appealed.

The appellate court noted to support a revocation of probation, the State must prove by the greater weight of the evidence that the probationer willfully and substantially violated probation. The court further noted on appeal, competent substantial evidence must support a finding of a willful and substantial violation; only then will we assess whether the trial court abused its discretion in revoking probation.

The court found the facts of Mr. Edwards’ case similar to its prior decision in Brown v. State.  There, Brown’s community control was revoked based on his alleged failure to comply with his curfew. Brown’s community control officer testified she had arrived at his apartment at 6:50 a.m., when Brown was supposed to be home, and that although she had tried calling his cell phone and knocking on the door several times very hard, she had gotten no response. She had then placed her business card in the door, with a note instructing Brown to call her immediately. Brown testified he had been asleep at home when the officer had come by, that he had not heard her calling or knocking, and that he had not seen the card.

The issue in Brown was the same issue in Mr. Edwards’ case: whether that no one answered the door in response to a probation officer’s curfew check is  legally sufficient to prove the defendant was not home.  In Brown, the court held the answer to that question was no. Rather, the Brown court found while from the State’s evidence the court could certainly infer Brown was not home, it could just have reasonably inferred Brown was asleep, in the shower, or otherwise occupied.

The State, however, argued Edwards’ case was more like the facts in the cases of like Dietz v. State, and Hurst v. State.  In Dietz, the community control officer testified he had gone to Dietz’s house at 4:20 p.m., had found both the front and side doors locked, and had received no response despite knocking on the front door, the windows on all sides of the house, and on the side door. In addition, two other officers who had supervised Dietz testified he did not have any hearing issues and he had answered the door any time they had knocked or rung the doorbell. The appellate court affirmed the revocation of Dietz’s community control, concluding the evidence was legally sufficient to establish Dietz had not been at home as required.

The appellate court distinguished Dietz. The court noted unlike Dietz’s community control officer, who knocked on doors and windows on all sides of the house, Officer Ashcraft knocked and called into the house only from the front door. More significantly, the curfew check in Dietz was done at 4:20 p.m., when one would expect the probationer to be awake and otherwise aware. Officer Ashcraft conducted both of her curfew checks of Edwards early in the morning when many people are asleep.

In Hurst, the probation officer conducted a curfew check at Hurst’s trailer at 11:48 p.m. and knocked so hard and for so long that she woke Hurst’s neighbors, but Hurst never responded.  In contrast, Officer Ashcraft’s own testimony established she never successfully roused anyone by knocking and calling into the house from the front door, including the person who was asleep on the couch just a few feet away from her on her second visit.

Because Brown, unlike Dietz and Hurst, was not meaningfully distinguishable from the facts of Mr. Edwards’ case, the appellate court concluded the evidence was legally insufficient to show he willfully and substantially violated special condition nine. Mr. Edwards’ community control was reinstated.

If you are alleged to have violated your community control for not answering the door during a curfew check, you potentially have strong defenses that can be best raised on your behalf by a knowledgeable Jacksonville criminal defense attorney.  Call me for a free consultation to discuss I can best help you avoid revocation of your community control and a consequent prison sentence.

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