Appeals Court upholds judge's ruling in probation revocation case

The Arkansas Court of Appeals has affirmed a Jefferson County Circuit Judge’s ruling revoking the probation of a man and sentencing him to prison.

Associate Justice Bill Walmsley said in the ruling Wednesday that Judge Jodi Raines Dennis was correct when she revoked the probation of Kelvin Stepps and sentenced him to three years in prison.

According to the court ruling, Stepps pleaded guilty to second-degree battery on March 8, 2002 and was sentenced to three years of probation. He was ordered to complete 120 hours of community service and pay fines, costs and restitution. A petition to revoke that probation was filed May 30, 2002, alleging that Stepps had violated conditions of the probation, including committing another offense.

On July 8, 2002, Stepps pleaded guilty to second-degree forgery and his probation was restarted for another three years, running concurrently with the other sentence.

Another petition to revoke the probation was filed on Sept. 9, 2003, alleging that he had failed to pay fines and fees, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. That warrant was not served until Nov. 17, 2008. On Nov. 7, 2009, the court placed Stepps on five years’ probation, and six months later, another petition was filed to revoke that probation, and the probation was restarted on Sept. 30, 2010.

Less than a year later, a fourth petition was filed to revoke the probation. Among the allegations were that Stepps failed to report, absconded, failed to pay fines and fees, and failed to complete his community service hours.

At the revocation hearing, Brooke Norsworthy, who was Stepps’ probation officer, testified that she had read and explained the rules of probation to him, and that he indicated he understood those rules by placing his initials beside each condition.

Norsworthy testified that when warrants were served on Stepps, he would begin reporting and comply with the conditions of his probation, but after each revocation hearing, he would fall into a pattern of noncompliance.

When he testified, Stepps acknowledged that he knew the rules of probation were not optional, and admitted that he failed to report for extended periods of time. He also said that he was aware of his financial condition in 2010 when he agreed to pay $50 every two weeks on his fines and fees but that his financial situation had changed after his car broke down, but he said he did not lose his job because he rode a bus to work.

According to the appeals court ruling, the state has to prove only that Stepps violated one condition of his probation to justify the revocation and in her testimony, Norsworthy listed several violations, which Stepps acknowledged.