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Hunter v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 16, 2018

Cameron Hunter, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

          Appeal from the Kosciusko Superior Court The Honorable David C. Cates, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 43D01-1705-F6-348

          Attorney for Appellant David C. Kolbe

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr., James B. Martin Deputy Attorney General

          Bailey, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] While criminal charges against Cameron Hunter ("Hunter") were pending, the State alleged that Hunter had contemptuously violated a condition of his bail. Following a hearing, the trial court entered a contempt finding and imposed a sanction of 180 days in jail. Hunter presents two issues on appeal, which we consolidate and restate as whether the court abused its discretion by imposing a criminal contempt sanction upon the violation of a condition of bail.

         [¶2] We reverse.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Hunter was released on bail during the pendency of criminal charges against him. Hunter and the State eventually reached a plea agreement, and the trial court scheduled the matter for hearing. At the hearing, Hunter sought to postpone consideration of the plea in order to determine whether he was eligible for community corrections. The State then orally sought a modification of the conditions of Hunter's bail, to which Hunter's counsel agreed. The court continued the hearing and orally modified the conditions of Hunter's bail, specifying that Hunter was not to contact or "be around anyone under the age of 18." Tr. Vol. II at 10. Hunter confirmed that he had no questions about the trial court's oral pronouncement. Hunter then left the courthouse and entered a vehicle that contained the three people he rode with to the hearing: his girlfriend, his fifteen-year-old sister, and a sixteen-year-old female. Thereafter, the State filed a petition alleging that Hunter had contemptuously violated a condition of his bail by leaving the courthouse with two minors. The trial court held a hearing on October 9, 2017, at which it determined that Hunter was in contempt. As a sanction, the court ordered Hunter to serve 180 days in jail.

         [¶4] Hunter now appeals.[1]

         Discussion and Decision

          [¶5] Hunter argues that the trial court abused its discretion by imposing a criminal contempt sanction for the violation of a condition of bail.[2] We review the imposition of contempt sanctions for an abuse of discretion, Witt v. Jay Petroleum, Inc., 964 N.E.2d 198, 204 (Ind. 2012), which occurs "when the trial court's decision is against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances before it." Mitchell v. Mitchell, 785 N.E.2d 1194, 1198 (Ind.Ct.App. 2003). Moreover, in reviewing a contempt order, "we neither reweigh the evidence nor judge the credibility of the witnesses." Id.

         [¶6] The instant matter arose because Hunter violated a condition of his bail, and bail procedures are controlled by the Indiana Code. See generally Ind. Code ch. 35-33-8. Therein, Section 35-33-8-5 sets forth a remedy for the violation of a bail condition-and that remedy is revocation of bail. Here, however, the State alleged contempt, and the trial court ultimately imposed a punitive contempt sanction. A court's contempt power enables it to impose sanctions designed to "maintain[] its dignity, secur[e] obedience to its process and rules, rebuk[e] interference with the conduct of business, and punish[] unseemly behavior." City of Gary v. Major, 822 N.E.2d 165, 169 (Ind. 2005). Contempt sanctions are often remedial in nature, aimed toward "coerc[ing] action for the benefit of [an] aggrieved party." In re Paternity of M.P.M.W., 908 N.E.2d 1205, 1209 (Ind.Ct.App. 2009). A court may nonetheless impose a punitive contempt sanction, but only if the offending conduct amounts to "criminal" contempt-that is, when the conduct was "willful and involve[d] a deliberate design to disobey the order as an act of defiance of, and interference with, the function of the court." Denny v. State, 203 Ind. 682, 182 N.E. 313, 320 (1932). Indeed, conduct amounts to punishable criminal contempt only when "directed against the dignity and authority of the court[, ] . . . obstruct[ing] the administration of justice and . . . tend[ing] to bring the court into disrepute or disrespect." State v. Heltzel, 552 N.E.2d 31, 33-34 (Ind. 1990).[3]

         [¶7] In this case, the State presented evidence of Hunter's violation, and argued that Hunter "defied the Court's order" because he "proceeded to exit the building" with minors. Tr. Vol. II at 31. Hunter testified that he did not know whether he was supposed to wait while his girlfriend drove the minors back and returned to pick him up, or first leave without the minors. In imposing a punitive contempt sanction, the trial court seemingly drew on Hunter's testimony, determining that Hunter "contemptuously ignored" its orders "because to comply would have been inconvenient for him." App. Vol. II at 13. Yet, Hunter's ...


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