In 2012, the State criminally charged Mr. Schultz and Ms. Wilson. Later, Wilson pled guilty and was sentenced to 6 years in prison. The State then filed a motion for grant of use immunity for Wilson which the court granted. A deposition of Wilson occurred where she acknowledged that she had received a copy of the Order Granting Use Immunity. The prosecutor then asked Wilson some questions, and Wilson indicated that she understood that the Order Granting Use Immunity provided that she would not be prosecuted for involvement in any crimes that she speaks about and that she could be found in contempt for refusing to answer. When asked why she did not want to testify, Wilson stated: “On advice of the counsel, I respectfully refuse to answer and hereby assert my rights under the 5th Amendment.” In 2012, the State filed a Motion for Contempt against Wilson. The trial court found her guilty of contempt and notified her that she could purge herself of the contempt by testifying truthfully in a deposition and that if she did not that she is ordered to serve 6 months consecutive to any other sentence she is now ordered to serve. Wilson filed a notice of appeal from the order.
On Appeal, the court first noted that contempt proceedings may be generally categorized as civil or criminal, according to the nature and purpose of the sanction imposed. A civil contempt is a violation of a court order resulting in a proceeding for the benefit of the aggrieved party. As such, any type of penalty in a civil contempt proceeding must be coercive or remedial in nature. By contrast, a criminal contempt is an act directed against the dignity and authority of the court that obstructs the administration of justice and tends to bring the court into disrepute. Accordingly, a criminal contempt sanction is punitive in nature because its purpose is to vindicate the authority of the court, and it benefits the State rather than the aggrieved party. Contempt may also be direct or indirect. Direct contempt involves action in the presence of the court, such that the court has personal knowledge of it. Indirect contempt undermines the orders or activities of the court but involves action outside the trial court’s personal knowledge. Here, the parties agree that the alleged contempt is indirect because Wilson’s failure to answer the questions at the deposition took place away from the courtroom and outside the personal knowledge of the trial court.
Next, the court stated that a party that is willfully disobedient to a court’s order may be held in contempt of court which is within the discretion of the trial court to determine whether a party is in contempt. Contempt of court involves disobedience which undermines the court’s authority, justice, and dignity. The trial court has the inherent power to maintain its dignity, secure obedience to its process and rules, rebuke interference with the conduct of business, and punish unseemly behavior. Crucial to the determination of contempt is the evaluation of a person’s state of mind, that is, whether the alleged contemptuous conduct was done willfully. When a person fails to abide by a court’s order, that person bears the burden of showing that the violation was not willful. The determination of whether to find a party in contempt permits the trial court to consider matters which may not, in fact cannot, be reflected in the written record. The trial court possesses unique knowledge of the parties before it and is in the best position to determine how to maintain its authority, justice, and dignity and whether a party’s disobedience of the order was done willfully. In this case, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s finding of contempt. 988 N.E.2d 1211