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Appellate court finds man’s conduct constituted just 1 instance of contempt

July 19, 2017

A man originally sentenced to one year in prison for disrupting court proceedings will instead serve only six months after the Indiana Court of Appeals found his contempt citation stemmed from a single incident.

In Brandon Mockbee v. State of Indiana, 15A01-1701-CR-22, Brandon Mockbee was charged with two counts of Level 5 felony burglary and one count of Level 5 felony conspiracy to commit burglary and was also alleged to be a habitual offender. Mockbee, who chose to proceed pro se with two standby attorneys, filed numerous “frivolous and repetitive” motions, causing the Dearborn Circuit Court to hold nearly 40 hours of hearings on the motions.

During those hearings, Mockbee was ordered to be removed for “disruptive and threatening behavior,” leading the judge to find he had forfeited his right to self-representation. Mockbee’s disruptive behavior continued after his standby counsel took over, and during a direct confrontation with the judge, which got him six months for being in contempt, Mockbee continued to taunt the court, and was again found in contempt and sentenced to an additional six months.

At a later hearing a week later, the trial court imposed the two separate six-month sentences “based upon defendant’s failure to cease his disruptive behavior after the imposition of the first contempt sentence.” In a Wednesday opinion, Indiana Court of Appeals Judge Rudolph Pyle agreed that Mockbee “repeatedly interrupted the proceedings, made inappropriate outbursts, and directed profanity toward the trial court.”

But drawing on the decision in State v. North, 978 A.2d 435, 436 (Vt. 2009), Pyle wrote that because Mockbee’s disruptive behavior occurred “within a single proceeding, lasted a relatively short period of time, was not interrupted by another proceeding, and flowed from a single criminal intent – to disrespect and disrupt the administration of justice,” he could only be found in direct contempt for one instance.

“(A) litigant whose outburst receives a contempt citation might be properly cited again after a period of calm behavior within the same proceeding,” Pyle wrote. “However, where, as here, multiple acts of contempt form a single contemptuous episode, we hold that a single punishment of not more than six months may be imposed, without a jury trial.”

Thus, the appellate panel vacated Mockbee’s second contempt citation and its corresponding six-month sentence and remanded the case with instructions to enter a sentencing order for criminal contempt and a six-month sentence to be served consecutively to his sentence for the criminal convictions under the same cause.

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