Lexis Nexis - Case Brief

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Law School Case Brief

Bloom v. Illinois - 391 U.S. 194, 88 S. Ct. 1477 (1968)

Rule:

Criminal contempt is not a crime of the sort that requires the right to jury trial regardless of the penalty involved. When the legislature does not express a judgment as to the seriousness of an offense by fixing a maximum penalty which may be imposed, appellate courts are to look to the penalty actually imposed as the best evidence of the seriousness of the offense.

Facts:

After testator died, testator's nurse engaged petitioner, an attorney, to draw and execute a will in the purported testator's name. The will was dated 15 days after testator died. The prosecution brought contempt charges against petitioner. Petitioner filed a timely motion for a jury trial, which was denied. The trial court found petitioner guilty of criminal contempt and sentenced him to imprisonment for 24 months. The state supreme court affirmed the conviction and held that neither state law nor the United States Constitution provided a right to jury trial in criminal contempt proceedings.

Issue:

Was the defendant entitled to a jury trial because the conduct upon which he was convicted was a serious crime and not a petty offense based on the penalty actually imposed?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of the United States reversed and remanded. The Court held that because the Illinois legislature did not express a judgment as to the seriousness of criminal contempt as to fix a maximum penalty, a court should look to the penalty imposed as best evidence of the seriousness of the offense. Because petitioner's punishment for criminal contempt was 24 months imprisonment, the Court held that he had the right to trial by jury under U.S. Const. art. III and U.S. Const. amend VI, and it was constitutional error for the trial court to deny him that right.

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