Certainly a Judge must control the courtroom. How a Judge may do this, not surprisingly, is determined by the law. One tool is the power to hold someone in contempt. [Hint: It’s a power used, a lot, below.] According to the Supreme Court, if the sentence imposed for contempt is less than 6 months, there is no right to a jury trial. Now, to our man in Maryland.
In 1990, Mr. Johnson was convicted of malicious destruction of personal property, placed on probation, and given a 3-year suspended sentence. He had to stay out of trouble for 3 years. Unfortunately, in 1991 he was convicted of burglary, and sentenced to 10 years. So Mr. Johnson is in jail for a couple years, when he is called to court for violating his 1990 probation – with just 10 days remaining on the 3-year suspended sentence.
Althought the prospect of serving an additional 3 years – on top of the 10 years he was already serving – did not sit well with him, his probation agent told him that the State would not seek to tack on the additional 3 years for violating his probation. WRONG! The Judge added on the 3 years, and a lively, lengthy, colorful conversation ensued. And just when you think it might be over …
THE COURT: Call the next case please.
[PROSECUTOR]: State calls Eugene Wright …
MR. JOHNSON: — at the same time. Don’t make no motherfucking sense.
THE COURT: Bring him back. Take him back.
MR. JOHNSON: No motherfucking sense.
THE COURT: Pull him back.
MR. JOHNSON: Yo, man, stop yanking on my motherfucking arms. Motherfucking —
THE COURT: Sit him back over there in front of the table. [Uh-oh]
THE CLERK: Give me the file back. He might be under contempt of court.
THE COURT: Now, stand up there. Come back to that table there. Step on up now. What’s wrong with you?
MR. JOHNSON: What the fuck you think wrong with me, man? Goddamn, I’m trying to tell you I ain’t have no motherfucking option in this shit, man.
THE COURT: All right.
MR. JOHNSON: What the fuck? You think everybody just want to go sit in prison for the rest of their life because you ain’t got nothing better to do than to sit up there and crack jokes. This ain’t no motherfucking joke, man. This is about my goddamn life.
THE COURT: That cost you five months and twenty-nine days in addition to the three years I’ve just given you [#1, and suspiciously shy of the 6 months that would require a jury trial]
MR. JOHNSON: Fuck this shit, man.
THE COURT: All right. That’s five months and twenty-nine more in addition to the five months and twenty-nine I’ve given you. [#2]
MR. JOHNSON: Fuck you, bitch.
THE COURT: That’s five months and twenty-nine days. That’s three years. That’s five months and twenty-nine days. Now, wait a minute. That’s consecutive to the three years that you’re now doing. Each one of those. Separate and independent. [#3]
MR. JOHNSON: If I had a gun, your motherfucking head would be splattered all over the back of the goddamn wall for —
THE COURT: And you’d better shoot straight when you try. When you get out, come on. Five months and twenty-nine more for that. That’s consecutive to the three others and consecutive to the one that you’re doing now. [#4]
MR. JOHNSON: Whatever man. You’re tired of giving it out? Did you finish or what?
THE COURT: Well, we can see. That’s five months and twenty-nine more. [#5]
MR. JOHNSON: Kiss my ass again.
THE COURT: Five months and twenty-nine more. [#6]
MR. JOHNSON: Kiss my ass until you’re tired of giving me another.
THE COURT: That’s six of them.
MR. JOHNSON: Kiss my ass again.
THE COURT: Seven. Five months and twenty-nine days. [#7]
MR. JOHNSON: Fuck you. Kiss my ass again.
THE COURT: Five months and twenty-nine days. [#8]
MR. JOHNSON: All right.
THE COURT: Consecutive.
THE CLERK: Silence.
MR. JOHNSON: So you finished giving out time?
THE COURT: I guess. Until you cuss again.
MR. JOHNSON: Suck my dick. [Very tricky, because “dick” isn’t a cuss word.]
THE COURT: Five months and twenty-nine days consecutive. [#9] [Damn!]
THE BAILIFF: Quiet in the Court.
MR. JOHNSON: You finished?
THE COURT: I suppose.
MR. JOHNSON: Well, what the fuck are you holding me for then?
THE COURT: Five months and twenty-nine more days. Consecutive. [#10]
MR. JOHNSON: Get the fuck off me, man.
THE COURT: Call the next one.
Not thrilled with the prospect of finishing his 10-year sentence, then 3 more years for the probation violation, then just under 5 MORE YEARS for contempt of court, Mr. Johnson appealed. Who do you think won? Mr. Johnson did. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed the contempt convictions.
In the instant case, the trial judge, by engaging in a prolonged dialogue with the appellant,may have provoked the appellant into repeatedly committing acts of contempt. Convictions for those acts may not stand.
The Court of Special Appeals held that the entire incident described above be considered as only one episode of contempt, and sent the matter back to the trial judge on that one count of contempt, with the not-so-subtle hint that they “leave it to his judgment what further action should be taken.” Johnson v. State, 642 A.2d 259 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1994).