The Right to a Jury Trial In Contempt Cases In Michigan
Michigan courts have not directly recognized a right to a jury trial in contempt cases under the Michigan Constitution. See, generally, People v. Johns, 384 Mich. 325, 330; 183 N.W.2d 216 (1971) (Court never addressed whether there is a right to a jury trial in a criminal case); People v. McCartney, 132 Mich. App. 547, 550-552; 348 N.W.2d 692 (1984) (failing to list a jury trial as a right in a criminal contempt case).
Despite our conclusion that a minor possessing alcohol commits a petty offense and, therefore would not be entitled to a jury trial under Sixth Amendment analysis, the contempt cases do not bind our decision in this case because contempt cases are distinguishable on significant grounds from other, even petty, offenses.
In Cross Co, supra at 211, in which the Supreme Court declined to extend the right to a jury trial to contempt cases, the Court still commented that contempt proceedings are an "anomaly."
As a procedure designed to "vindicate the power and authority of a court," id., contempt proceedings have a unique basis in the law. Committing contempt is substantially different from violating a statute enacted by the Legislature to prohibit conduct that is malum in se because it is naturally evil or immoral, like murder.
There is nothing intrinsically evil about, for example, refusing to answer a question posed by a grand jury.
A court may, nevertheless, have a legitimate need to compel the testimony and, as a result, properly exercise its power to hold the reluctant witness in contempt until he answers. See, generally, In re Contempt of United Stationers Supply Go, 239 Mich. App. 496, 499-501; 608 N.W.2d 105 (2000) (describing civil and criminal contempt).
Similarly, committing contempt is different from violating a statute that proscribes particular conduct because it is unwise under legitimate views of public policy and therefore malum prohibitum, like the offense at issue in this case.
A court's ability to prevent future unwarranted interruptions in its procedures may benefit parties seeking justice and have some contingent effect on society. Id.
However, unlike the legislative process, courts do not invite comment, go through an in-depth debate process, and ultimately attempt to focus on the needs of society at large before determining when to enforce specific standards of conduct.
Moreover, contempt cases are not precisely criminal cases. As Justice Cavanagh noted in In re Contempt of Dougherty, 429 Mich. 81, 90-91; 413 N.W.2d 392 (1987), quoting Andreano v. Utterback, 202 Iowa 570, 571; 210 N.W. 780 (1926), a "'contempt proceeding occupies what may be termed the twilight zone between civil and criminal cases . . . .'"
In contrast, a person who violates MCL 436.1703(1); MSA 18.1175(703)(1) plainly commits a crime.