State Supreme Court Rules Post-Conviction Relief Not Available In Contempt Finding

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Friday that persons found in criminal contempt under the general contempt statute have not been convicted of a criminal offense and may not obtain post-conviction relief from such criminal contempt findings.

Persons convicted of offenses defined as crimes by state statutes may seek relief in the courts from constitutional errors in their convictions by filing a petition under a state law called the Post-Conviction Procedure Act. Generally, those seeking post-conviction relief have been convicted of a crime, are in custody under a sentence of a state court, and have the automatic right to file one petition for post-conviction relief.

The case concerns Tracy Rose Baker, a Sumner County woman who, in 2010, admitted willfully violating court orders arising from her divorce case on 18 occasions. As punishment for these instances of criminal contempt, she agreed to maximum sentences of 10 days on each of the 18 counts. Initially, she was placed on probation for six months. She was later found to have violated the terms of the probation and ordered to serve the entire 180-day sentence in the Sumner County Jail. Ms. Baker appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reduced the total sentence to 30 days.

Ms. Baker did not appeal from the Court of Appeals’ decision. Instead, she returned to the trial court and filed a petition for post-conviction relief to overturn the 2010 order in which she agreed to the 18 contempt findings. The trial court denied Ms. Baker’s petition. Ms. Baker appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals agreed with the trial court, explaining that post-conviction relief is not available to persons found to be in criminal contempt under the general contempt statute.

The Supreme Court in its Opinion today upheld the Court of Criminal Appeals decision, noting the distinction between a conviction of a criminal offense and a finding of criminal contempt under the general contempt statute. While both may result in a punishment of jail time, Tennessee law does not define contempt as a criminal offense, or equate a finding of criminal contempt with a conviction of a criminal offense.

In the Opinion, Justice Cornelia A. Clark writes contempt laws “are not intended to punish conduct proscribed as harmful by the general criminal laws. Rather, they are designed to serve the limited purpose of vindicating the authority of the court” as it relates to judicial proceedings. Thus, Ms. Baker was not entitled to seek post-conviction relief from the criminal contempt findings.

To read the unanimous Opinion in Tracy Rose Baker v. State of Tennessee, authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark, visit the Opinions section of TNCourts.gov.


GeorgiaBEST Implemented At Georgia Northwestern

State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler announced that Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) in Rome has become the first institution of higher learning in Georgia to offer GeorgiaBEST, the Georgia Department of Labor’s (GDOL) initiative that teaches workplace soft skills. “I commend President Pete McDonald for recognizing the need to incorporate soft skills training ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Business Calendar Oct. 25 - Nov. 1

MO/27 Get a Job -- Tyner High School 10:17 a.m. to 3:55 p.m. Tyner High School: 6836 Tyner Rd. Get A Job instructs 10th graders on the finer points of interviewing skills, completing job applications, dressing for success and other topics of importance for the 21st century workforce.  Community volunteers are needed to assist with this event.  Please contact ... (click for more)

Man Shot At Apartments On Tunnel Boulevard Wednesday Afternoon, Then 2 Juveniles Shot At Rec Center On Oakwood Drive With Suspects In Custody

Chattanooga police officers responded to the apartment buildings at 404 Tunnel Blvd. Wednesday at 1:21 p.m., where residents say they heard multiple shots fired.  Witnesses said they saw multiple suspects fleeing the scene on foot behind the complex.  The male victim was taken to a local hospital for life threatening gunshot wounds.  Later Wednesday, ... (click for more)

Several Arrested Outside Erlanger Hospital When Crowd Gathers After Woodlawn Shooting

Several people were arrested Monday night outside Erlanger Hospital after a crowd gathered and clashed with police. The crowd included family and friends of 20-year-old Apprentice Berry, who was shot multiple times and killed earlier Monday night at the Woodlawn Apartments on Wilson Street. Erlanger officials said the group gathered at the emergency room, but were later moved ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Has Lost Its Most Popular Citizen - Luther Masingill - And Response

Chattanooga has lost its most popular citizen – Luther Masingill. Although we are saddened we cherish the memories.  All of us have a Luther story.  Mine is the first time I met Luther.  This was before TV and all of Chattanooga listened to Luther on the radio.  I was 12-years-old.  Some of my buddies and I had gone to the State Theater in downtown ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: The Policeman’s Prayer

Every year, when the Law Enforcement Foundation of Greater Chattanooga holds its annual luncheon, it is one of the most heartening displays of what America really believes, down deep inside. The most prominent and influential leaders in the community – well over 1,000 -- gather to pay tribute and pledge their support to our heroes in blue who are unfaltering in their devotion, service ... (click for more)