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Summary Contempt

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Memo to defendants:  If you are unhappy with the trial judge's decision, it is still not a good idea to yell "F*** y'all" at the judge.

That is what the anonymous defendant did in In re Sealed Case, decided today by the D.C. Circuit.
"In August 2000, the appellant pleaded guilty to one count of possessing with intent to distribute five grams or more of cocaine base . . . ."  Clearly, he is a nonviolent offender of the kind the self-styled "smart on crime" folks assure us poses no threat.  So, despite our nation's "draconian" drug laws, he got time served plus five years supervised release.

Then he murdered someone.  On top of the murder sentence (26), the judge revoked his supervised release on the drug charge and gave him three years.  The exclamation came at this point.  The judge held him in summary contempt and tacked on one more year.  Oops.  The max without triggering the right to jury trial is six months.  The Court of Appeals reduced the sentence accordingly.

The defendant also claimed he had been denied his right to allocute, as if he hadn't already said enough.

Is the extra six months really punishment?  Defendant might think so 29 years from now, if he is still alive, but it probably doesn't seem like much now.

The opinion does not explain why the defendant addressed the individual judge with the plural "y'all."  See American Heritage Dictionary 2072 (3d ed. 1992); Oxford American Dictionary 1959 (2001).  Perhaps the statement was addressed to the entire judicial system, not just the individual judge.

Thanks to Mike Scarcella at BLT for the pointer.

1 Comment

Six months in jail for criticizing a public official? Seems a bit rich for my blood. I get that these are courtroom procedures and courts need to have decorum, but the defendant should simply be removed from the courtroom with no further time added. Defendants, unlike court spectators, have to be there.

And what's with the judge not knowing basic constitutional law in pronouncing a sentence?

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