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

Friday, September 6, 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.


Lisa Baskette Joins Pinnacle As Mortgage Advisor

Lisa Baskette has joined Pinnacle Financial Partners as a senior vice president and mortgage advisor for the firm’s Shallowford Road office. She is based at the firm’s downtown office, 801 Broad St. until the Shallowford office is complete. Ms. Baskette, with 28 years of experience, served as a vice president and mortgage loan originator for Regions Bank. Prior roles included ... (click for more)

Flywheel Brands Welcomes Newest Member To Growing Team

Flywheel Brands, Inc. welcomed Adam Duggan as the newest team member of the Hixson-based print management company. Assuming the role of business development executive, Mr. Duggan will be supporting new clients in their efforts to generate momentum behind their brands and develop marketing strategies that yield the return they're seeking. His primary focus will be with those organizations ... (click for more)

2 Juveniles Arrested For Arson In Sevier County Fires

An investigation by special agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, National Park Service, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office has resulted in charges being placed against two people in connection with the deadly wildfires in Sevier County.  Last week, at the request of 4 th  District Attorney General ... (click for more)

Shannon Whitfield Already At Work Eliminating Sole Commissioner Post In Walker County; Process To Take 4 Years

Shannon Whitfield is already at work eliminating the position he won by a landslide in the recent election. Mr. Whitfield, who takes over at 12:01 a.m. on Jan. 1 after a 16-year reign by Bebe Heiskell, noted, however, that it is a four-year process. He said the two House members and local senator are working with him on legislation that must first be approved. That should ... (click for more)

Vehicle Emissions Testing Causes More Pollution Than It Prevents - And Response

While a noble cause to make sure vehicles are operating efficiently with the minimum amount of pollutants, a simple analysis makes it somewhat evident the VET program in Chattanooga causes more pollution that it prevents.  Though I don't know how many vehicles are tested on an annual basis, if you assume an average round trip of 10 miles to the nearest testing station (five ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: You Can’t Sue You

The Hamilton County School Board will convene an hour earlier tomorrow to discuss “facilities” and the question of the hour is “Which ones?” Several communities are actively studying pulling away from the county’s Department of Education and the stew is thickening by the day. Now comes the revelation that school board attorney Scott Bennett has sent an email to the town of Signal ... (click for more)