The Dallas Court of Appeals yesterday GRANTED two writs of habeas corpus that I filed on behalf of a Dallas family law client in a contempt/enforcement case on temporary orders. The Dallas Family Court judge confined the client for alleged violations of several court orders to pay various amounts of money, even after payment was made. The contempt orders failed to run the punishment on each separate count concurrently to all of the other counts, which violated the sacred right to a jury trial. The client’s trial lawyer demanded a jury trial and paid the required fee, but the Judge denied him that right.
The right to a jury trial in the United States remains inviolate. A party is entitled to a jury trial in a criminal or quasi-criminal case (such as a contempt proceeding, even in a civil court) when the possible punishment could exceed a total for all counts of 6 months in jail and a total of $500 fine on all counts. When a case will have a period of confinement of less than 6 months and fine of less than $500 it is considered a "petty" offense, for which a jury trial is not an option. However, when the punishment exceeds that limited amount, the allegations are considered "serious" and invokes the right to jury trial.
The Dallas Court of Appeals stated, "The orders signed by the trial court did not clearly state that the jail terms imposed by the court were to be served concurrently. Accordingly, relator was sentenced to more than 6 months in jail and was entitled to a trial by jury". As a result the Dallas Court of Appeals granted the writs of habeas corpus in favor of relator, released him from confinement (he has been out on bond), and vacated the orders made the basis of the commitment. This decision by the Court of Appeals attaches jeopardy, which is a legal concept that prohibits retrying a person for alleged violations where the court of appeals finds the law was violated in the first trial.