COA vacates contempt finding in domestic battery case

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Double jeopardy concerns led the Indiana Court of Appeals to vacate a contempt finding against a man facing a domestic battery charge, though his related domestic battery sentence was upheld.

In Antonio Buford v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-956, Antonio Buford was found guilty of Level 6 felony domestic battery after he punched E.C. in the face while she was holding their infant son. After the final verdict was read, the Marion Superior Court indicated that evidence had been presented of a violation of a no contact order issued against Buford and for E.C. that took place outside of the court’s presence.

The trial court thus set a show-cause hearing on why Buford should not be held in contempt for violating its order by sending E.C. a letter, conversing with her via telephone and giving directions to her through his mother while he was in jail. Buford requested a stay of the hearing, expressing concern that there was a potential double jeopardy issue regarding additional charges pending against him.

However, the trial court found no double jeopardy issue and said Buford would not be “held accountable for two (2) separate acts or for the same act twice.” Further, the state said that if the Buford were held in contempt as a “punitive act,” it would not file an invasion of privacy charge relating to a Jan. 3, 2019, phone call to E.C.

The trial court ultimately ordered him to serve 90 days in the Marion County Jail as a sanction.

The same day, Buford was charged in a separate cause, Cause 8877, with Level 5 felony obstruction of justice and seven counts of Class A misdemeanor invasion of privacy. Count II of that case alleged Buford knowingly or intentionally violated the no contact order in the domestic violence case on Jan. 3, 2019.

Buford was ultimately sentenced to 2 ½ in community corrections years for his domestic battery conviction in the first case. Later, in Cause 8877, Buford received a one-year suspended sentence for his conviction of violating the no contact order, to run consecutively to a four-year sentence in the same case and to his 2 ½ – year sentence from the first case.

Buford then appealed, arguing first that his 9-day contempt sanction was improper. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed in a Monday opinion.

“Having found that the contempt sanction was punitive and thus that the sanction of ninety days in the Marion County jail constituted a punishment, we find that the State’s filing, on the same day as the contempt hearing, of Count II concerning the January 3, 2019 invasion of privacy in Cause No. 8877 constitutes double jeopardy concerns,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote for the Indiana Court of Appeals.

“… We observe that, despite assuring the court that it would not file the ‘Invasion of Privacy [count] for January 3, 2019,’ the State did precisely that and Buford was convicted and sentenced for that offense,” Brown wrote. “Accordingly, we vacate Buford’s contempt finding under this cause,” the appellate court wrote.

However, the appellate court found no abuse of discretion in Buford’s sentence for domestic battery, pointing to his criminal behavior since the age of 13, including repeated felony offenses involving violence and domestic violence, and to his violation of the no contact order as the case was pending.

“We conclude based on our review of the record that, even if the court considered an improper aggravator, other valid aggravating circumstances, which Buford does not challenge, justify the sentence enhancement,” Brown wrote.

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