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Video Transcribed: Hello, I am Oklahoma attorney, Brian Jackson. I work with the criminal defense attorneys at Wirth Law Office in Oklahoma. I want to talk with you about the jury trial right and contempt proceedings. I’ll start by saying contempt proceedings are quasi-criminal because if you’re convicted of contempt of court for any reason, whether it’s child support or noncompliance with some other provision of your divorce decree or your paternity decree or some other order of the court, it can carry jail time of six months in county.
Because of that, it’s considered quasi-criminal. Basically, when you file contempt on somebody, you were asking the court to punish them for their noncompliance with the court order. Because of that, you enjoy certain rights that are afforded to criminal defendants, including among other things, the right to a jury trial.
Now in contempt, because contempt under Oklahoma law is treated as a misdemeanor and the distinction between misdemeanors and felonies can be very short. It has to do with the severity of the crime and the severity of the punishment. Misdemeanors usually typically don’t carry more than a year of incarceration and any incarceration arising from a misdemeanor is going to be in county jail. Felonies are crimes that carry more than a year and if you were incarcerated, you go to prison.
Six months, that would put a contempt charge in the misdemeanor category. However, as a misdemeanor, you have a right under Oklahoma law to demand a jury. The jury would consist of six members on the panel and they would determine whether you’re guilty or not guilty.
There’s a lot of discussion amongst attorneys about whether it’s better to waive jury on contempt or not waive jury on contempt. My answer is, it depends. I will tell you that if you are looking at a contempt charge for nonpayment of child support in Tulsa County, you’re almost always better off to ask for a jury because the docket in Tulsa County is nicknamed the Rocket Docket. And there’s a reason why it has that nickname is you can go from being served to being incarcerated in 90 days.
They do not screw around. And if you have a legitimate defense, you’re probably better off in front of a jury. If you don’t have a legitimate defense, you might still be better off in front of a jury because it buys you time to get into compliance. And if you’re in compliance, you have less of a chance of finding yourself incarcerated. In either situation, it’s probably better to get a jury if you’re talking contempt for child support nonpayment.
What about if it’s visitation or some other part of the court order? Well again, I think it depends, but there is something to be said for the idea that although jury trials tend to cost more money, it also buys you time to get into compliance. And if you have a legitimate defense, you may get a little more sympathy from a jury than you would from the bench.
For all of these reasons, a jury trial is at least worth considering. Now that does come at additional cost because it costs a lot more to pay a lawyer to litigate a case in front of a jury than in front of a judge.
And the courts sometimes are a little more inclined to set bond if you demand a jury, although they shouldn’t set bond if you show up voluntarily and are voluntarily compliant, since bond in Oklahoma is supposed to be based on flight risk. But the judges do have discretion when it comes to setting bonds and they sometimes do that if you demand a jury trial.
Nevertheless, there are circumstances where that’s your better bet because if you have a defense, you may get a little more sympathy from a jury than you do from the bench. It could be worth it. And again, if you need to get in compliance and you need to buy time, that’s a way to buy time. That’s the jury trial right. You have to affirmatively waive it in order to go to a bench trial so if you do not affirmatively waive it, you’re getting a jury trial.