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Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals Reverses Violation of Probation Based on Illegal Initial Sentence

The Stoves Law Firm

In an Alabama criminal case, even the smallest mistake can have drastic consequences.  When a prosecutor or judge makes a mistake during trial or at sentencing, a defendant may be able to challenge their conviction or sentence even if they were found guilty by a jury.  The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals recently heard an appeal by a man who was convicted of assault and later had his probation revoked, yet appealed the revocation by claiming the initial sentence was not legal.  This case illustrates the important concept that an illegal sentence is invalid at its inception and, anything that happens afterward, such as a probation violation, must be undone along with the illegal sentence.

The Facts of the Case

On January 12, 2023, the Mobile Circuit Court revoked the defendant’s probation, which started a legal battle over the legality of his 2022 sentence for first-degree assault. Back in 2022, the defendant had been sentenced to a split sentence including jail time and probation. His appeal hinged on the assertion that his split sentence was “illegal,” thus rendering the court’s jurisdiction over his probation revocation null and void.

The Alabama Supreme Court emphasized that any sentence exceeding statutory authorization exceeds the court’s jurisdiction, rendering it void. The defendant argued that his split sentence was too short to satisfy statutory requirements, thus invalidating subsequent probation revocation proceedings.  The State disagreed that the sentence was illegal, arguing that the Court had the discretion to sentence the defendant to less than the guidelines, and alternatively that any error was harmless.

This case highlights the importance of statutory compliance in sentencing. The defendant’s contention notes the disparity between the imposed “time served” split sentence and the statutory mandate of a minimum three-year imprisonment for Class B felony convictions. However, the defendant’s split sentence fell short of what was required by law, which removed the court’s ability to revoke the defendant’s probation.  The Court found that the short sentence may prejudice the defendant because the state could pursue additional proceedings that would subject the defendant to additional criminal liability.  As a result of the Court’s opinion, the defendant could not be found in violation of his probation because the original probation sentence was void.

Challenging Cases Require Creative Defenses

If you or a loved one has been accused of a crime in Alabama, it is essential to have an experienced Birmingham criminal defense attorney in your corner. At The Stoves Law Firm, P.C. Attorney Jason Stoves is a veteran defense attorney with over 25 years of hands on experience developing creative and compelling defenses to challenging cases.  We have experience representing clients in matters from pre-trial to post-conviction, and with our help, you can be confident in your defense.   To learn more, and to schedule your free consultation today, contact the Stoves Law Firm, P.C., at (205) 823-7233. You can also connect with us through our secure online contact form

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