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.
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