Appeals Court: Hearsay Not Enough to Revoke Probation

A juvenile should not have had their probation revoked based entirely “on unreliable hearsay testimony from a Department of Children and Families case worker,” the Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled. 

During an Oct. 2, 2017 probation revocation hearing, a DCF case worker testified that the juvenile was not cooperating with the department and “ha[d] broken all the rules,” according to the decision.

However, the case worker was not assigned to the juvenile’s case when the alleged violations occurred. The case worker also admitted that his testimony was entirely based on conversations with a third party and notes from the juvenile’s DCF case file.

“This case is a simple case of classic, multiple-level, hearsay,” said Benjamin L. Falkner, a Committee for Public Counsel Services bar advocate, during oral arguments in March. “It does not come close to meeting the requirements of being substantially reliable.”

The Appeals Court agreed, and on Tuesday reversed a lower court judge’s order revoking probation and imposing a sentence on the juvenile.

“We … conclude that the testimony from the case worker lacked the ‘indicia of reliability’ required to support finding that the juvenile violated his probation,” Appeals Court Justice Edward McDonough wrote. “Significantly, the case worker’s testimony lacked the requisite factual detail.”