Sunday, March 18, 2007

Contempt and Jail

A not so gentle reminder from Thompson v. Thompson, 811 N.E.2d 888 (Ind.App. 2004) (Microsoft Word fromat) about the limits of using jail time to punish a contempt:

When the trial court ordered Jack to serve two weekends in the Hamilton County Jail pursuant to its March 14, 2002 contempt finding, it failed to indicate that Jack could purge himself of the punishment and forgo his jail sentence by complying with its orders. Appellant’s App. p. 268. Rather, the trial court expressly stated, “[t]he court therefore orders the following punishment for [Jack’s] contempt.” Id. (emphasis added).

There are, of course, instances in which a court may issue a punitive contempt order without a provision allowing the contemnor to purge him or herself of the contempt, such as is found in “indirect criminal contempt.” However, the contempt order in the case at bar may not be characterized as an order of indirect criminal contempt. See Allison v. State, 243 Ind. 489, 494, 187 N.E.2d 565, 568 (Ind. 1963) (indirect criminal contempt must be filed as an independent cause of action and prosecuted by the State); T. v. State, 439 N.E.2d 655, 659 (Ind. Ct. App. 1982) (a criminal contempt proceeding is a separate action from the main action out of which it arises).

Because the contemptible conduct was of the nature of indirect civil contempt and the trial court did not condition Jack’s jail sentence upon his compliance with its orders, Jack’s jail sentence arising from the trial court’s contempt order was illegal, and we now vacate that order.

Sometimes a party leaves a court no other choice than use jail time. However, the court usually conditions jail time on the person mending their ways. Instead of a order to go to jail directly, the judge will suspend incarceration so long as the person complies with the court's orders.

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