ILNews

Court: punitive penalty not allowed

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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A juvenile court erred when it found a juvenile in civil contempt of court and imposed an additional term of confinement as a result, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In K.L.N. v. State of Indiana, No. 71A03-0708-JV-411, K.L.N., a juvenile, had appealed the juvenile court's decision to impose an additional term of confinement against him for being found in contempt of court. K.L.N. was confined to a secure facility for 120 days and often did not follow the rules. As a result, he had some privileges taken away by the facility, and the juvenile court modified the terms of his dispositional decree to include an order that he must follow the rules of the facility.

After breaking more rules and being found in indirect contempt of court, the juvenile court added 77 days to his term of detention.

Although K.L.N. was released from commitment and probation, closing his case before the appeals process was finished, authoring Chief Judge John Baker wrote in a footnote the court would still rule on the issue because it is a question of public interest that is likely to recur.

The Court of Appeals ruled the juvenile court erred by holding K.L.N. in contempt and lengthening his term of confinement. The juvenile court had ordered that for every day of his original confinement in which he was well-behaved, one day would be subtracted from the contempt detention.

A penalty imposed by a court for an act of civil contempt must be coercive or remedial rather than punitive in nature. The judges looked to caselaw outside of Indiana for guidance on the subject. The Washington Court of Appeals found a juvenile court erred when it ordered a teen, who had numerous unexcused absences from school, to attend school or else be found in contempt and forced to serve detention for each violation. After being found in contempt on three separate occasions for violating the order, the juvenile court ordered the teen to serve two days of secured detention. The nature of the sanctions were not remedial but punitive because the teen could not immediately satisfy the conditions of the court and remained in jeopardy of incarceration.

Because the juvenile court failed to provide a genuine means for the teen to purge the contempt, the sanction was punitive, imposed, and suspended on conditions, thus, it was criminal in nature and not civil, wrote Chief Judge Baker. Similarly, the condition put on K.L.N. by the juvenile court to follow the rules for the rest of his detention and allowing days to be subtracted for previous good behavior was not within K.L.N.'s capacity to complete at the time the sanctions were imposed.

Indiana statute has not allowed juvenile courts to have authority to "micro-manage" the detention of a juvenile delinquent, he wrote. A trial court would not have the authority to lengthen an inmate's sentence for failure to abide by prison rules. Thus, it is up to the detention facility to institute a punishment for bad behavior, not the courts.

The appellate court found the juvenile court erred and reversed the decision.
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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

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  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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