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Under the facts of this case, a defendant in a state criminal contempt proceeding who vilified the judge during the course of the defendant's trial in the state court and was sentenced by that judge to 11 to 22 years for the contempt, was entitled under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to a public trial before another judge. Pp. 462-466.
434 Pa. 478, 255 A. 2d 131, vacated and remanded.
DOUGLAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C. J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BURGER, C. J., post, P. 466 and HARLAN, J., post, p. 469, filed concurring opinions. BLACK, J., filed a separate statement, post, p. 466.
Curtis R. Reitz, by appointment of the Court, 398 U.S. 902 , argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner.
Carol Mary Los argued the cause for respondent, pro hac vice. With her on the brief was Robert W. Duggan.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.
Petitioner and two codefendants were tried in a state court for prison breach and holding hostages in a penal institution. While they had appointed counsel as advisers, they represented themselves. The trial ended with a jury verdict of guilty of both charges on the 21st day, which was a Friday. The defendants were brought in for sentencing on the following Monday. Before imposing sentence on the verdicts the judge pronounced them guilty of criminal contempt. He found that petitioner had committed one or more contempts on 11 of the 21 days of trial and sentenced him to not less than one nor more than two years for each of the 11 contempts or a total of 11 to 22 years. [400 U.S. 455, 456]
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed by a divided vote. 434 Pa. 478, 255 A. 2d 131. The case is here on a petition for writ of certiorari. 397 U.S. 1020 .
Petitioner's conduct at the trial comes as a shock to those raised in the Western tradition that considers a courtroom a hallowed place of quiet dignity as far removed as possible from the emotions of the street.
(1) On the first day of the trial petitioner came to the side bar to make suggestions and obtain rulings on trial procedures. Petitioner said: "It seems like the court has the intentions of railroading us" and moved to disqualify the judge. The motion was denied. Petitioner's other motions, including his request that the deputy sheriffs in the courtroom be dressed as civilians, were also denied. Then came the following colloquy:
As these separate acts or outbursts took place, the arsenal of authority described in Allen was available to the trial judge to keep order in the courtroom. He could, with propriety, have instantly acted, holding petitioner in contempt, or excluding him from the courtroom, or otherwise insulating his vulgarity from the courtroom. The Court noted in Sacher v. United States, 343 U.S. 1, 10 , that, while instant action may be taken against a lawyer who is guilty of contempt, to pronounce him guilty of contempt is "not unlikely to prejudice his client." Those considerations are not pertinent here where petitioner undertook to represent himself. In Sacher the trial judge waited until the end of the trial to impose punishment for contempt, the Court saying:
Whether the trial be federal or state, the concern of due process is with the fair administration of justice. At times a judge has not been the image of "the impersonal authority of law" (Offutt v. United States, 348 U.S. 11, 17 ) but has become so "personally embroiled" with a lawyer in the trial as to make the judge unfit to sit in judgment on the contempt charge.
It is, of course, not every attack on a judge that disqualifies him from sitting. In Ungar v. Sarafite, 376 U.S. 575 , we ruled that a lawyer's challenge, though "disruptive, recalcitrant and disagreeable commentary," was still not "an insulting attack upon the integrity of the judge [400 U.S. 455, 466] carrying such potential for bias as to require disqualification." Id., at 584. Many of the words leveled at the judge in the instant case were highly personal aspersions, even "fighting words" - "dirty sonofabitch," "dirty tyrannical old dog," "stumbling dog," and "fool." He was charged with running a Spanish Inquisition and told to "Go to hell" and "Keep your mouth shut." Insults of that kind are apt to strike "at the most vulnerable and human qualities of a judge's temperament." Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194, 202 .
Our conclusion is that by reason of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment a defendant in criminal contempt proceedings should be given a public trial before a judge other than the one reviled by the contemnor. See In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257 . In the present case that requirement can be satisfied only if the judgment of contempt is vacated so that on remand another judge, not bearing the sting of these slanderous remarks and having the impersonal authority of the law, sits in judgment on the conduct of petitioner as shown by the record.
[ Footnote * ] Petitioner was sentenced for contempt December 12, 1966. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed on April 23, 1969. We decided Illinois v. Allen on March 31, 1970.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, concurring.
I concur in the Court's opinion and add these additional observations chiefly for emphasis. Certain aspects of the problem of maintaining in courtrooms the indispensable atmosphere of quiet orderliness are crucial. Without order and quiet, the adversary process must fail. Three factors should be noted: (1) as MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS has said, the trial was conducted without the guidance afforded [400 U.S. 455, 467] by MR. JUSTICE BLACK's opinion for the Court in Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337 ; (2) although the accused was afforded counsel at his trial he asserted a right to act as his own counsel and the court permitted him to do so; (3) we are not informed whether Pennsylvania has a statute covering obstruction of justice that would reach the conduct of the accused shown by this record.
As the Court's opinion suggests, the standards of Illinois v. Allen, supra, would have enabled the trial judge to remove the accused from the courtroom after his first outrageous actions and words, and to summarily punish him for contempt. The contempt power, however, is of limited utility in dealing with an incorrigible, a cunning psychopath, or an accused bent on frustrating the particular trial or undermining the processes of justice. For such as these, summary removal from the courtroom is the really effective remedy. Indeed it is one, as this case shows, where removal could well be a benefit to the accused in the sense that one episode of contemptuous conduct would be less likely to turn a jury against him than 11 episodes. As noted by MR. JUSTICE BLACK in Illinois v. Allen, and MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS here, a fixed rule to fit every situation is not feasible; plainly summary removal is the most salutary remedy in cases such as this.
Here the accused was acting as his own counsel but had a court-appointed lawyer as well. This suggests the wisdom of the trial judge in having counsel remain in the case even in the limited role of a consultant. When a defendant refuses counsel, as he did here, or seeks to discharge him, a trial judge is well advised - as so many do - to have such "standby counsel" to perform all the services [400 U.S. 455, 468] a trained advocate would perform ordinarily by examination and cross-examination of witnesses, objecting to evidence and making closing argument. No circumstance that comes to mind allows an accused to interfere with the absolute right of a trial judge to have such "standby counsel" to protect the rights of accused persons "foolishly trying to defend themselves," as MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS so aptly described it. In every trial there is more at stake than just the interests of the accused; the integrity of the process warrants a trial judge's exercising his discretion to have counsel participate in the defense even when rejected. A criminal trial is not a private matter; the public interest is so great that the presence and participation of counsel, even when opposed by the accused, is warranted in order to vindicate the process itself. The value of the precaution of having independent counsel, even if unwanted, is underscored by situations where the accused is removed from the courtroom under Illinois v. Allen. The presence of counsel familiar with the case would at the very least blunt Sixth Amendment claims, assuming they would have merit, when the accused has refused legal assistance and then brought about his own removal from the proceedings.
There are other means to cope with grave misconduct in the courtroom, whether that of the accused, his counsel, spectators, or others. Statutes defining obstruction of justice have long been in force in many States, with penalties measured in years of confinement. Such statutes, where available, are an obvious response to those who seek to frustrate a particular trial or undermine the processes of justice generally.
A review of this record warrants a closing comment on the exemplary patience of the trial judge under provocation [400 U.S. 455, 469] few human beings could accept with equanimity. Our holding that contempt cases with penalties of the magnitude imposed here should be heard by another judge does not reflect on his performance; it relates rather to a question of procedure.
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, concurring.
I concur in the judgment of reversal solely on the ground that these contempt convictions must be regarded as infected by the fact that the unprecedented long sentence of 22 years which they carried was imposed by a judge who himself had been the victim of petitioner's shockingly abusive conduct. That circumstance seems to me to deprive the contempt proceeding of the appearance of evenhanded justice which is at the core of due process. For this reason I think the contempt convictions must be set aside, leaving the State free to try the contempt specifications before another judge or to proceed otherwise against this petitioner.
It is unfortunate that this Court's decision in Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337 (1970), was not on the books at the time the criminal case against this petitioner was on trial. The courses which that decision lays open to trial judges for coping with outrageous courtroom tactics of the sort engaged in by this petitioner would doubtless have enabled Judge Fiok to deal with the petitioner in a manner that would have obviated the regrettable necessity for setting aside this contempt conviction. [400 U.S. 455, 470]
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Citation: 400 U.S. 455
Docket No: No. 121
Argued: December 17, 1970
Decided: January 20, 1971
Court: United States Supreme Court
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