By Caroline Daniel

In an unpublished opinion released today, the Fourth Circuit affirmed Johnny L. Dowdy’s sentence of 14 months imprisonment and 46 months of supervised release following a revocation hearing.  Dowdy appealed his conviction based on the admission of hearsay evidence at the hearing, and in United States v. Johnny L. Dowdy, Jr., the court held that the evidence was likely admissible and, even if its admission was error, it was a harmless one.

Dowdy was originally convicted of multiple drug trafficking offenses.  While on supervised release, he pled guilty to violating various conditions of this release including failing to notify the DMV of his address change, having improper equipment, failing to check-in with his probation officer, failing to notify his probation officer of his address change, leaving the area in which he was permitted to be without permission, and obstructing a police officer.  During this hearing, the district court also found Dowdy guilty of an incident of battery that occurred while he was on supervised release.  The victim of the battery did not appear at the hearing, and the only evidence offered was statements to the police officers.  Dowdy objected to the admission of the evidence based on hearsay.

Quoting United States v. Doswell, the Fourth Circuit explained in its opinion that “supervised release revocation proceedings are informal proceedings in which the rules of evidence, including those pertaining to hearsay, need not be strictly applied.”   The court did note that due process concerns about a defendant’s right to confront a victim remain significant in this informal setting.  These concerns should be balanced against the government’s proffered reason for the victim’s absence.

Here, the court ultimately held that even if the balancing test was not properly applied by the district court, any error was harmless.  Dowdy argued that the district court’s conclusion of his guilt in the battery charge was the “determinative factor underlying [his] revocation sentence,” but the Fourth Circuit pointed to the numerous other determinations that the district court considered in his sentencing.  Ultimately, Dowdy’s violent and lengthy criminal history and his breach of the court’s trust while on supervised release led to his appropriate revocation sentence.   Any alleged evidentiary error was practically irrelevant.

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