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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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.