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Posted by: Barry Kolar on Apr 10, 2012

Court: TN Court of Criminal Appeals

Attorneys 1:

Robert Jones, District Public Defender; and Phyllis Aluko, Assistant Public Defender, for the appellant, Michelle Lambert.

Attorneys 2:

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; J. Ross Dyer, Senior Counsel; Amy P. Weirich, District Attorney General; and Garland Erguden, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Judge(s): GLENN

The General Sessions Court of Shelby County found the petitioner, Michelle Lambert, in contempt for failing to comply with the orders of the court and sentenced her to five days in jail. Rather than filing a direct appeal, the petitioner responded by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Shelby County Criminal Court, alleging that the judgment was void for two reasons: first, because Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-9-103, which lists the punishments under the general contempt statute cited by the general sessions court in its order, limits the power to impose jail time to circuit, chancery, and appellate courts and; second, because the general sessions court failed to afford her notice or a hearing prior to finding her in indirect contempt. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the habeas court granted the writ by vacating the judgment and remanding to the general sessions court for “further proceedings not inconsistent” with its order, including the initiation by the general sessions court of the proper notice and hearing required for a finding of indirect contempt. On appeal, the petitioner argues that the habeas court lacked the authority to remand the case to the general sessions court upon granting the writ of habeas corpus. We conclude, however, that the petitioner failed to show that her judgment was void, rather than merely voidable. Thus, she should have sought relief through a direct appeal. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the habeas court granting the writ of habeas corpus.