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Court upholds probation revocation

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the probation revocation of a Rocky Mount man shown with an assault rifle and drugs during a Facebook Live video.

Dominique Jacquez Winfield, 22, is serving a five-year sentence at Caledonia Correctional Institution in Halifax County on convictions including larceny, breaking and entering and possession of a firearm by a felon. Since being incarcerated, Winfield has had three infractions for disobeying an order, possessing an electronic device and tobacco use, according to the state Public Safety Department.

Winfield pleaded guilty on Oct. 6, 2017, to several crimes committed in 2017. He was placed on 18 months of supervised probation in Durham County, 12 months of supervised probation in Edgecombe County and 24 months of supervised probation in Orange County.

As part of his probation, Winfield was prohibited from possessing a firearm; possessing any illegal drug or controlled substance; being present at any place where illegal drugs or controlled substances were sold, kept or used; and committing any new criminal offense.

On April 9, 2018, Winfield was taken into custody for violating his probation conditions. On June 6, 2018, Edgecombe County Superior Court Judge Walter H. Godwin Jr. appointed attorney Matthew Sperati, who had been sitting in the courtroom and who had defended Winfield before, as Winfield’s counsel.

Two hours and 40 minutes later, the probation revocation hearing began.

Winfield denied he violated probation. Prosecutors called Dustin Wester, an officer with the Rocky Mount Police Department. He testified that on April 9, 2018, he was working patrol with another officer when he received a Facebook Live video in which he saw Winfield and two other people sitting on a bed next to an SKS assault rifle. In the video Winfield also held up a bag of colorful pills that Wester believed to be ecstasy and later identified as such.

Wester knew where one of the other people in the video, Quadarius Grimes, lived. Wester went to the residence and located Winfield.

The rifle was found inside the home and the pills were found in plain view in the kitchen. The entire encounter was recorded by Wester’s body camera. Part of the footage showed the interrogation of Winfield at the police station during which he admitted that he had held the gun in question, according to court documents.

The judge revoked Winfield’s probation and activated his prison sentence.

Appeals attorney Sarah Holladay argued Winfield’s probation should not have been revoked because of insufficient evidence he possessed a firearm or a controlled substance and because he received ineffective assistance of counsel.

In an opinion penned by Judge John Arrowood, the appellate court determined Godwin made the right decision in revoking Winfield’s probation.

“Alleged probation violations do not need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but the evidence only needs to be sufficient to reasonably satisfy the judge in the exercise of his sound discretion that a valid condition of the suspended sentence has been violated,” the appeals court ruled. “While the evidence may have been short of what would be needed to convict someone beyond a reasonable doubt, it was sufficient for the trial court to determine that defendant had violated the conditions of his probation by possessing the firearm and the ecstasy.”

Holladay also argued Winfield’s hearing counsel was ineffective because he did not have enough time to prepare for the probation hearing. Sperati had two hours and 40 minutes to prepare, and the body camera footage alone is more than two hours long.

Holladay said Sperati did not have enough time to call witnesses like Grimes, who could have testified about the night of Winfield’s arrest.

“While less than three hours is a brief amount of time to prepare for a hearing, it is possible that defense counsel looked over the majority of the evidence and decided he did not need more time than that,” the appeals court ruled. “Officer Wester testified that he shared the body camera footage with defense counsel, and it is clear from the testimony that defense counsel listened to at least some portion of the video because he told the trial court that the footage was hard to hear. The decisions to hold the case open, not watch the entirety of the body camera footage video and not call witnesses might have been part of a well-thought-out legal strategy on the part of defense counsel. On the face of the record, we cannot determine defense counsel’s thought processes or tactics. Therefore, we dismiss this issue without prejudice for defendant’s right to file a motion for appropriate relief.

“For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the trial court’s judgment revoking defendant’s probation and dismiss without prejudice defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance of counsel,” the appeals court ruled.