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Court divided on invasion of privacy charge

November 8, 2010

The Indiana Court of Appeals split today as to whether a woman who had an order for protection against her should have been convicted of invasion of privacy when she spoke to the protected party during a court hearing.

Kimberly Thomas had an ex parte order for protection issued against her that prevented her from “harassing, annoying, telephoning, contacting or directly or indirectly communicating” with James Smith. While that order was in effect, the trial court held a hearing on the matter with both parties present. Thomas told Smith to stop calling her at the end of the hearing and in the court’s presence. She was immediately arrested and charged with Class A misdemeanor invasion of privacy.

The trial court found she violated the order and convicted her. Thomas argued there wasn’t enough evidence to show she acted with the mens rea to commit invasion of privacy because the “courtroom is a neutral zone where some terms of the protective order are naturally suspended” to conduct judicial proceedings. She argued that her statement was a gross violation of decency and decorum and that she should be held in contempt.

In Kimberly Thomas v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1002-CR-105, Judges Elaine Brown and Carr Darden believed given the context of this case that the judge should have used direct contempt to punish Thomas for her statement. They reversed her conviction and remanded for the trial court to resume direct contempt proceedings to address her comment if the court chooses to do so.

Judge Cale Bradford dissented, finding nothing in Indiana statute would have precluded the state from filing the invasion of privacy charge. He agreed that direct contempt proceedings would have been the “more efficient and preferred remedy” but the “statute plainly states that a person who violates a protective order commits invasion of privacy.”

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