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State v. Parrillo

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

May 3, 2017

State
v.
Anthony Parrillo.

         Providence County Superior Court P1/82-500A Justice Bennett R. Gallo

          Lauren S. Zurier Department of Attorney General

          Anthony M. Traini, Esq. John B. Harwood, Esq.

          Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          Paul A. Suttell Chief Justice.

         Chief Justice Suttell, for the Court. This Court issued a writ of certiorari to review a Superior Court order denying the state's request to adjudge Anthony Parrillo a probation violator. The hearing justice's decision to deny the state's request was based upon his finding that Parrillo was no longer on probation at the time that he allegedly committed the offense of felony assault. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate the order of the Superior Court and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I

         Facts and Procedural History

         The pertinent facts in this case are not in dispute. In March 1982, Parrillo was charged with two separate counts of murder. Later that year, a Superior Court jury found him guilty of murder in the first degree on count 1 of the indictment and guilty of murder in the second degree on count 2 of the indictment. Parrillo appealed to this Court, and in 1984 we vacated the judgment of conviction. State v. Parillo, 480 A.2d 1349, 1359 (R.I.

          1984).[1] The case was remanded to the Superior Court where, on January 21, 1986, Parrillo pled guilty to two counts of second-degree murder. Significantly, per the judgment of conviction and commitment, he was sentenced to thirty years, the first twenty years to serve with "the remaining 10 years * * * suspended, probation for 10 years, said probation to commence upon [Parrillo's] release from the [Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI)], each count concurrent."[2]

         On December 22, 1993, after receiving what appear to be credits for time served pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 12-19-2[3] and for good behavior pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 42-56-24, [4] Parrillo was released from the ACI on parole. According to an affidavit by Parrillo, on or about October 25, 1999, he was advised by his parole officer that his parole was terminated and that his ten-year term of probation began as of that date. Ten years passed without incident, and the Department of Corrections (DOC) informed Parrillo, in writing, that his "file ha[d] expired on [October 24, 2009, ]" and that "[a]ccording to available records as of [that] date, [his] probation ha[d] been terminated * * *." This information was conveyed in a letter, dated December 14, 2009, under the letterhead of the "Adult Probation and Parole" unit of the DOC and signed by Donna Broccoli, "[a]dministrative [o]fficer" (2009 letter). Parrillo thereafter had no contact with the probation department.

         On December 17, 2011, Parrillo was arrested as a result of a physical altercation that occurred at Club 295, a nightclub located on Atwells Avenue in Providence (2011 incident). He was later charged with two counts of felony assault, conspiracy to commit felony assault, and simple assault as a result of the 2011 incident.[5] In addition, on January 9, 2012, the state filed a probation violation report pursuant to Rule 32(f) of the Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure.[6] The state maintained that Parrillo had failed to "keep the peace and be of good behavior" and that, as a consequence, he should be adjudged a violator.

         Parrillo objected to the state's Rule 32(f) violation report and filed a request to be discharged from probation, to which the state objected. He sought a dismissal of the Rule 32(f) violation report on the grounds that "he was no longer on probation at the time of either the alleged conduct or the filing of the violation notice, but instead that his probation expired some time before that." Parrillo attested that he "believed that [his] probation should have ended at the earliest on December 20, 2003, but in any event [he] was not on probation after October 24, 2009, " and that he "conducted [him]self at all times as though [he] was not on probation." He claimed that he had relied on the language used by the sentencing justice, i.e., that his ten-year probationary term would "commence upon [his] release from the ACI, " in addition to the DOC letter that informed him that his probation had terminated on October 24, 2009-ten years after his release from parole. He also argued, seemingly in the alternative, that the state should be barred from seeking to revoke his probation because to hold otherwise would constitute a violation of his due-process rights.

         A violation hearing was held on November 2, 2012, at which time Parrillo argued that he was not "subject to being violated because his probation ha[d] already terminated" in 2009. He maintained that it was "inconceivable" that the state could inform Parrillo that his probation had ended, and then, years later, attempt to adjudge him a probation violator. In response, the state maintained its position that Parrillo was in fact on probation at the time of the 2011 incident. Specifically, the state claimed that Parrillo's thirty-year sentence in 1986 meant that he would "finish serving the full term of his sentence on January 22, 2016."

         The hearing justice disagreed with the state and quashed the Rule 32(f) violation report. The hearing justice rejected Parrillo's argument that the doctrine of equitable estoppel barred the state from seeking to adjudge him a violator, reasoning that "the probation officer had no authority to modify [the sentence], " and that it was "absurd to even attempt to apply the detrimental reliance [analysis] in the context of the facts of this case." However, the hearing justice held that the language of § 12-19-8 was clear in that it granted the sentencing justice the authority to set the period of probation. Therefore, he concluded that the sentencing justice's specification that probation would "commence upon [Parrillo's] release from the ACI" should be given effect.[7] An order entered denying the state's request that Parrillo be adjudged a probation violator.

         The state subsequently filed a motion to reconsider and, on April 5, 2013, its motion was heard.[8] The hearing justice explained that his decision to deny and dismiss the Rule 32(f) violation report was based on what he felt was "the only evidence of the intent of the sentencing judge"-the clear language of the judgment of conviction that articulated that the probationary term would "commence upon [Parrillo's] release from the ACI." The hearing justice further explained that "[t]he [sentencing] judge could have sentenced [Parrillo] to 30 years, 20 to serve, with the balance of the term suspended and [Parrillo] placed on probation for that period of time[, ] [but] [h]e did not." Therefore, the hearing justice denied the state's motion to reconsider. The state thereafter filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, which this Court granted on May 27, 2014.

         II

         Standard of Review

         "This Court's review 'on writ of certiorari is limited to examining the record to determine if an error of law has been committed.'" Huntley v. State, 63 A.3d 526, 530 (R.I. 2013) (quoting State v. Shepard, 33 A.3d 158, 163 (R.I. 2011)). "Questions of law * * * are not binding upon the [C]ourt and may be reviewed to determine what the law is and its applicability to the facts." Id. at 530-31 (quoting Shepard, 33 A.3d at 163). "We reverse only when we find pursuant to the petition that the [hearing justice] committed an error of law." Id. (quoting Shepard, 33 A.3d at 163). On certiorari, "[w]e do not weigh the evidence." Kedy v. A.W. Chesterton Co., 946 A.2d 1171, 1177 (R.I. 2008). "If legally competent evidence exists to support th[e] determination, we will affirm it unless one or more errors of law have so infected the validity of the proceedings as to warrant reversal." Id. (quoting Cullen v. Town Council of Lincoln, 893 A.2d 239, 244 (R.I. 2006)).

         III

         Discussion

         We first address the question of whether, as a matter of law, Parrillo was on probation at the time of the 2011 incident. To do so, we must delve into the governing statutory provisions and our jurisprudence interpreting such provisions, most recently pronounced in Rose v. State, 92 A.3d 903 (R.I. 2014). If Parrillo was indeed on probation at that time, then we must determine if the hearing justice committed an error of law in rejecting Parrillo's equitable estoppel defense against the state.

         A

         Parrillo's ...


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