The Florida Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a Florida man who showed up drunk for jury selection should not have been sent to jail for his actions.
The Florida Supreme Court found that the Tallahassee man should not have been found guilty of direct criminal contempt by a judge in Leon County Court because some of his questionable conduct happened outside of the court and not in direct view of the judge.
The court ordered that Florida’s First District Court of Appeals issue an order vacating the decision. However, the state could investigate whether to retry the man for indirect criminal contempt.
On April 15, 2013, the man showed up for jury duty at the Leon County Courthouse. He told a judge during general questioning that he had various issues that would make it difficult to serve on a jury, including admitting that he was a drunk.
The judge did not excuse the man and selection continued. The man later fell asleep as other prospective jurors complained he smelled of alcohol and it was hard to wake him up. A breath test administered outside the presence of the judge showed a blood alcohol content of 0.111 percent.
A judge convicted the man of direct criminal contempt for disrupting jury selection and distracting other jurors as the result of being drunk. The judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail and he was eventually released after 17 days.
The First District Court of Appeals upheld the decision before it was argued before the Supreme Court in October of 2014.
Attorneys for the man argued that the court erred in not providing the man with counsel before sentencing him with direct criminal contempt. The Supreme Court said in its 42-page decision that there is no such a requirement in either the federal or state constitutions.
Contempt of court generally refers to any conduct that defies, disrespects or insults the authority or dignity of a court. Contempt of court can happen directly or indirectly – direct contempt happens in the presence of the court and indirect contempt happens outside the court’s presence.
Judges typically have much discretion in deciding whom to hold in contempt and the type of contempt. Those held in contempt can include parties to a proceeding, attorneys, witnesses, jurors, people in or around a proceeding, and officers or staff of the court itself.
Contempt of court is not something we usually read about in the news. In will be interesting to see if the State decides to try the man for indirect contempt, seeing that the direct contempt charges were thrown out.