State v. Pettiford, ___ N.C. App. ___, 2022-NCCOA-136 (Mar. 1, 2022)

The defendant was sentenced to 25 to 42 months in prison, suspended for 30 months of supervised probation. The defendant’s probation officer subsequently filed a violation report alleging that the defendant committed the crime of misdemeanor breaking or entering. At the probation violation hearing, the trial court found that the defendant violated his probation by committing a new offense of misdemeanor breaking or entering and activated the defendant’s suspended sentence. The defendant filed a motion for appropriate relief the following month, which the trial court denied. 

On appeal, the defendant argued that insufficient evidence existed to show he violated his probation, or, in the alternative, that the trial court abused its discretion by revoking his probation. The Court of Appeals rejected the defendant’s first argument, noting that a probation proceeding is more informal than a criminal prosecution and, accordingly, “the court is not bound by strict rules of evidence, and the alleged violation of a valid condition of probation need not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” Slip op. at ¶ 9. The evidence presented at the hearing showed that the defendant was known to associate with the victim “on a routine basis”; the officer recovered several prints from the point of entry of the victim’s apartment, one of which was identified as belonging to the defendant; the defendant did not have permission to be inside the apartment; and the defendant lived next door to the apartment. The Court of Appeals thus concluded that competent evidence existed that the defendant willfully violated his probation by committing a new offense of misdemeanor breaking or entering.

The Court also held that because competent evidence existed to support the trial court’s finding, the trial court had authority to revoke the defendant’s probation and thus did not constitute an abuse of discretion.