Tuesday, October 09, 2007

With Criminal contempt, the defendant does not hold the keys for his release

In Miller v. Miller, the family court held Husband in contempt because he failed to honor a court order and permit Wife to remove her property from the marital home. The family court ordered Husband to return Wife's property. His failure to do so would result in a sentence of twelve (12) months incarceration, with the provision that he would be "released by the return of such property." While the Court of Appeals upheld the finding of contempt, it noted that "the family court committed an error in nomenclature by designating the contempt criminal rather than civil."

Without doubt, this is a civil contempt proceeding. The family court's Amended Order does not subject Husband to an unconditional, fixed term of imprisonment. Husband, if imprisoned, could obtain his release by complying with the court's directive; he held the keys to his prison. The contempt ruling was obviously intended to compel Husband's compliance with the requirements of the Temporary Order. Although mistakenly referred to as criminal contempt, substantively, the family court's finding of contempt was civil in nature.

All in all, this case provides a good discussion of the law of contempt in South Carolina.

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