Due Process Violation In Contempt Proceeding Not Moot

Taren Coupland neglected to appear for her trial, so in her absence she was found guilty of possession of drug paraphernalia. A few days later, Taren was sentenced to 24 months of court supervision. Taren also was required to have a drug/alcohol assessment within 30 days, and to complete a remedial program within six months.

A status hearing was set for about a month later, but Taren neglected that hearing, too. When she did appear for a hearing some 90 days later, Taren told the court she had not completed the drug/alcohol assessment. The trial court ruled that Taren was in contempt of court and that she was to be jailed until she completed the evaluation. Taren could purge the contempt order by completing the drug/alcohol evaluation.

Taren asked the court to reconsider the contempt ruling. She argued that the contempt hearing, coming without notice, was a violation of her due process rights. But by the time the trial court heard her request for reconsideration, Taren had completed the evaluation and was not in custody. The trial court thus denied her request for reconsideration because, the court said, it was moot.

Taren appealed. The State argued that the appeal was moot for the same reasons the trial court found the reconsideration request to be moot. But the Third District Illinois Appellate Court disagreed. Even though the actual controversy was moot, the court took the case because it fell into the “public interest exception” to the mootness doctrine. Here is what the appellate court stated:

Even though an issue is moot at the time of the appeal, some reviewing courts will exercise their jurisdiction to controversies under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine. This public interest exception applies when the issue is public in nature, requires authoritative guidance from the reviewing court, and is likely to recur …

“Public nature” questions include issues affecting a large number of the general public or issues of public importance … First, the issue at hand involves the enforcement of a criminal sentencing order of supervision in Warren County. Potentially, the court may be called upon to enforce similar conditions in other court orders affecting offenders in a multitude of cases. Second, contempt proceedings invoke a potential contemnor’s due process rights requiring authoritative intervention to guide future proceedings to enforce the circuit court orders in Warren *453 County … Third, the likelihood of recurrence is great and is not limited to the complaining party in this appeal. The public interest exception considers potential recurrences to any person … We conclude the requirements of the public interest exception exist, and accordingly, we shall decide defendant’s appeal.

In the end, the appellate court ruled that Taren’s due process rights had been violated. Get the whole case, People v. Coupland, No. 3-07-0338 (12/20/08), by clicking here.