Tuesday, January 15, 2008, 6:21 PM

COA Vacates Criminal Contempt Because It Was Based On Acts Occuring After Show Cause Order

Today in State v. Coleman the Court of Appeals (COA) clarified that (generally) a party cannot be held in criminal contempt based on acts committed on dates other than the dates charged in the show cause order. In this case, after the plaintiff moved to hold the defendant in criminal contempt for violating a TRO, the trial court issued a show cause order, which in the criminal contempt context is akin to an indictment. The trial court then made a finding of (indirect) criminal contempt based on TRO violations occurring after the show cause order. Because those incidents post-dated the show cause order, they weren't part of the show cause order, and the defendant wasn't on sufficient notice of them. It was akin to a variance from an indictment. So the criminal contempt was vacated. The holding: "A defendant's constitutional right to notice and a hearing at which the State bears the burden of proving the alleged contemptuous acts beyond a reasonable doubt compels us to hold that findings of fact based solely on acts which occurred after the issuance of the show cause order are insufficient to adjudge the defendant in criminal contempt."

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