Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Contempt Conviction For Tardiness Reversed

In re: Gates: Gates, a defense attorney, was late for a very important date - his client's guilty plea hearing. The hearing had been moved up a day on the calendar, leading to some confusion on Gates's part as to when it was supposed to take place. When Gates arrived at the hearing 15 minutes late, the district court did not accept his explanation and, referencing "your appearance on other occasions," found Gates in contempt and ordered him to pay a fine of $250.

Gates appealed on two grounds, both of which the Fourth Circuit accepted in reversing his contempt conviction. First, Gates argued that his contemptuous behavior (if it was so) took place outside of court and was thus indirect contempt, rather than direct. As a result, the district court could not summarily find him in contempt without notice and an opportunity to defend himself. The Fourth Circuit agreed, applying plain error, noting that absence from court was not the contemptuous behavior at issue, but rather the reason for the absence was key. Because that behavior does not occur in court, it is only indirect. Second, Gates argued that the court should not merely remand for further proceedings, as the record was bereft of any evidence of criminal intent to be contemptuous. The Fourth Circuit agreed and reversed his conviction.

1 comment:

Michael R. Ray, Myrtle Beach said...

Chief Judge Traxler hit the nail on the head in this opinion. Too often CJA appointed counsel are faulted for events beyond their control.