COA reduces contempt sentence from 910 days to 6 months

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The Marion Superior Court must reduce a man’s sentence for criminal contempt of court to six months in order to comply with his Sixth Amendment rights and U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In Bryan Fearman v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1704-CR-802, Bryan Fearman was convicted of the attempted murder of Lerron McDowell, along with several other offenses. When Fearman learned McDowell’s family was in the courtroom during his sentencing hearing, he told the court, “Who gives a f— if they’re in the f—ing room.”

The judge admonished Fearman and informed him that his behavior in court would be considered during sentencing. Fearman responded by rolling his eyes and said he would “wring (McDowell’s) f—ing neck” when he was released from prison.

The judge had Fearman removed from the courtroom, then issued an order finding him in direct contempt of court for his behavior. Noting Fearman’s behavior was the equivalent of Level 6 felony intimidation, a crime punishable by up to 2½ years in prison, the judge sentenced Fearman to 910 days in the Department of Correction on the contempt charge, with that sentence to run consecutive to his other sentences.

Fearman appealed, and the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed to reverse the contempt sentence in a Thursday opinion. Judge Melissa May wrote for the court that Fearman’s Sixth Amendment rights were violated when he was sentenced to more than six months without being tried before a jury. That’s because his multiple interruptions and profane outbursts during the sentencing hearing occurred during a single, uninterrupted proceeding, May said, citing Codispoti v. Pennsylvania, 418 U.S. 506, 517 (1974).

“Fearman’s multiple acts of contemptuous behavior constitute a single contemptuous episode and can only warrant a ‘single punishment of not more than six months, without a jury trial,” May wrote. “Therefore, we reverse Fearman’s 910-day sentence for contempt and remand for the trial court to enter a sentencing order for criminal contempt with a six-month sentence, to be served consecutive to Fearman’s criminal convictions… .”

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