The Supreme Court has adopted the standard set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 1(3) regarding the definition of a "petty offense," insofar as it has ruled that imprisonment for no more than six months for contempt is constitutionally permissible without a jury trial. Taylor v. Hayes, 418 U.S. 488 (1974). See also Frank v. United States, 395 U.S. 147 (1969) (sentence of three years probation permissible without jury trial). However, the Court has declined to rule that contempt proceedings, at least as to organizations, resulting in fines of greater than the amount set out in 18 U.S.C. § 1(3) are automatically entitled to jury trials. See Muniz v. Hoffman, 422 U.S. 454, 477 (1975).
A court may, during the course of a trial, impose successive summary contempt orders resulting in an aggregate sentence of imprisonment of more than six months in the absence of a jury trial. Such sentencing is permissible so long as no one contempt order carries a sentence of greater than six months. If, however, the court chooses to impose a single finding of contempt at the termination of the trial, imprisonment for longer than six months is constitutionally impermissible without a jury trial, even if the judge calculates the sentence of imprisonment for each contempt at six months or less. See Codispoti v. Pennsylvania, 418 U.S. 506 (1974).
If the contempt falls within the purview of 18 U.S.C. § 402, contempts constituting crimes, then the contemnor is automatically entitled to a jury trial by reason of 18 U.S.C. § 3691.
[updated August 2001] [cited in JM 9-39.000]