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Wisconsin mother released from jail after being held in contempt longer than legal limit

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RACINE COUNTY, Wis.  - A Wisconsin mother held for nine months in a Racine County jail is back with her 10-year-old son after reporters pointed out to the judge that there is a limit on how long a person can be held for contempt of court.

A New Jersey judge said Sarah Sheppard is a victim of domestic violence, but a Wisconsin judge held her in jail for contempt of court after she refused to bring her son Daniel back to the boy's father.

Sarah and Daniel had an emotional reunion after Sarah's release on April 25th. After not seeing Sarah for three-quarters of a year, he came home from school to find his mother waiting for him.

Sheppard had not seen her son since July 2018, when a Racine County judge jailed her for refusing to return Daniel, who has autism, to his father.

"I will sit here as long as it takes to make sure he is not hurt ever again," she said.

Daniel's father, Joesph Sheppard took issue with her decision. He said Sarah made up the allegations to keep Daniel away from him.

"This is kidnapping," he said in an interview.

While visiting family in New Jersey in 2015, Sarah told police her husband had been abusing her for years. A New Jersey judge issued a domestic violence restraining order.

The state of Wisconsin said there was not enough evidence for the order and demanded Sarah bring Daniel back to the Badger State. Sarah, from jail, said she had no intention of doing so.

"This is exactly what women do," Joseph said.

Sarah sat in jail without an attorney until a WITI reporter asked a Racine County judge how long someone could be held in jail for contempt. As it turned out, the maximum is six months, and Sarah had already been behind bars for nine.

Hours later, Sarah was released.

"So they gave me like, a hideous gray sweatsuit to put on. I just didn't care. It was clothes that were not orange," said Sarah. "I'm so glad that this is just over, and I can go home and I can see my son again and I can hug him for the first time in nine months."

In less than 24 hours, she was back in New Jersey, holding her son.

"You're as tall as I am! What happened?! Where did my little boy go?" she said.

It was the second time she had to wait nine months to hold him, but the first since he was born.

While Sarah is out of jail, it's unclear whether the order to return Daniel to Wisconsin remains in effect. There are no hearings scheduled in the case, and both New Jersey and Wisconsin say they have jurisdiction over the child.

The boy's father said he plans to take the case to federal court.

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