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Circuit court can’t hold defendant in contempt for refusing to sign bond

In re the Finding of Contempt in: State v. Shafia M. Jones, 2107AP2359, District 2, 5/9/18 (UNCITABLE SUMMARY DISPOSITION); case activity (including appellant’s brief)

This is a summary order, the holding of which may be of interest to trial lawyers. Because it is a summary order, it may NOT be cited “in any court of this state as precedent or authority,” § 809.23(3)(a). But the reasoning the court of appeals gives for its holding cites to and relies on published decisions. So if a circuit judge orders your client to sign his or her bond and threatens your client with contempt for refusing to do so, you should fight back using the same authority cited by the court of appeals in this summary order.

The circuit court ordered Jones to sign her signature bond, which, over her objection, included a no-contact provision. When Jones said she didn’t agree with the condition and wouldn’t sign the bond, the circuit court found Jones had “violated the Court’s order to sign the bond form, which is required in all cases, and impeded the authority and the decorum of the court today.” It imposed thirty days for contempt of court.

Jones appealed. The state didn’t file a response brief, thus tacitly conceding the circuit court’s actions were indefensible, so the court of appeals summarily reverses on that basis alone. But it also addresses and reverses on the merits:

Under Wis. Stat. § 785.02, the court “may impose a remedial or punitive sanction for contempt of court,” which includes intentional “[m]isconduct in the presence of the court which interferes with a court proceeding or with the administration of justice, or which impairs the respect due the court,” Wis. Stat. § 785.01(1)[(a)]. The circuit court in this case utilized the summary contempt procedure under Wis. Stat. § 785.03(2), which allows the court to impose sanctions “immediately” to preserve “order in the court and protect[] the authority and dignity of the court.” We review a finding of contempt under an erroneous exercise of discretion standard. State v. Kruse, 194 Wis. 2d 418, 427-28, 533 N.W.2d 819 (1995).

We conclude that the circuit court’s finding that Jones committed a contempt of court is clearly erroneous. Jones was not required to sign her bond form.³ See State v. Wilcenski, 2013 WI App 21, ¶18, 346 Wis. 2d 145, 827 N.W.2d 642 (“[The defendant] had the right to decline [conditions of bail] and await his trial in the confines of the county jail.”); State v. Dewitt, 2008 WI App 134, ¶17, 313 Wis. 2d 794, 758 N.W.2d 201 (“[The defendant] was not obligated to sign the bond, especially if he knew he would not be posting cash bond.”). As Jones implicitly recognized, signing the bond form “does [her] no justice” when she was already incarcerated for a separate crime as it would have subjected her to the possibility of additional criminal charges. See Dewitt, 313 Wis. 2d 794, ¶14 (explaining that the definition of “release” for the purposes of Wis. Stat. § 946.49, the bail jumping statute, “refers to the defendant posting the bond, be it signature or cash, and need not be accompanied by the defendant’s physical departure from the jailhouse”). As Jones was not required to sign her bond form and the record indicates that she refused to do so in a respectful manner, her behavior at the hearing cannot fairly be described as intentional “[m]isconduct” or “[d]isobedience, resistance or obstruction of the authority, processor order of a court.” See Wis. Stat. § 785.01. We therefore reverse the circuit court’s order finding Jones in contempt of court.

³ It is clear from the record that the court was concerned about ensuring that a no contact order with the victim would be in effect for Jones while she was incarcerated. As Jones’[s] attorney explained at the hearing, the court was authorized to order no contact outside the context of the bond conditions. See Wis. Stat. § 940.47.

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  • Charles Barnard August 2, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Reminds me of English law in the 1700’s when the Crown could and did frequently fine or jail jurors for voting against the Judge.

    This is what all efforts to legislate sentencing are trying to bring back with mandated sentences–eliminate the jury from the process.
    After all, the jury is only supposed to represent the local situation and modify sentencing to fit the community and the offense. Nothing there that’s important.

    Of course, all such mandates ignore the fact that longer sentences actual result in more recidivism.

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