Double Jeopardy and Contempt of Court

In a recent case heard in the South Carolina Court of Appeals, an interesting concept has come up. It is the idea that if you are held in contempt by the court for a certain action, that double jeopardy attaches and you cannot be prosecuted for the same crimes that you were found in contempt of court.
Most people understand that criminal contempt sanctions are usually less severe than the punishment for the crime one is accused of committing. This might be a way to avoid a more harsh punishment, if it worked.
In the case of State v. Robert Steve Jolly, Appellate case No. 2011-190688, Jolly executed a scheme to defraud people out of their property by having distressed homeowners transfer their property to him, then paying their mortgage payments to him. The scheme caused at least forty-five foreclosure actions against victims. This also caused a backlog of cases at the master-in-equity’s office. His actions, and subsequent actions in filings and in court hearings caused him to be sanctioned for criminal contempt of court by “orchestration of the aforementioned scheme, his conduct in the Foreclosure Actions, and his conduct before the Court at the April 16 hearings has interfered with judicial proceedings, exhibited disrespect for the Court, and hampered the parties and witnesses..(and) were calculated to obstruct, degrade, and undermine the administration of justice.”
Jolly was indicted for one count of the unauthorized practice of law and five counts of obtaining property by false pretenses. He moved to dismiss the indictments arguing double jeopardy would be violated due to his contempt of court sanctions. The Court granted his motion and the State appealed.
The test for whether two offenses are separate or the same (and thus double jeopardy attaches) has long been settled. This was determined in the case of Blockburger v. United States, 284 U.S. 299, 304 (1932). “Under the Blockburger test, a defendant may be convicted of two separate crimes arising from the same conduct without being placed in double jeopardy where his conduct consists of two distinct offenses.” Simply put, the elements of both must be the same. If there is one element that is different from the two offenses, they are separate crimes.
In this case, the crimes charged are criminal contempt and unauthorized practice of law and five counts of obtaining property by false pretenses. The Appeals Court ruled, “the offense of obtaining property by false pretenses does not require any interference with judicial proceedings that is calculated to obstruct, degrade, and undermine the administration of justice. In comparison, the commission of criminal contempt does not require the obtaining from another person by false pretenses real property with the intent to cheat and defraud a person of that property.” Since the two offenses do not have the same elements, there is no double jeopardy. Jolly’s case was reversed and remanded so he could be tried on the indictments.
This is a great example of how double jeopardy works and why. This guy thought the contempt sanctions would help him escape from the indictments against him. If he had a lawyer, he could have saved himself a lot of time and aggravation and probably a contempt sanction. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at 843-822-9800 or comment on my blog post.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply