Tag Archives: contempt

The State is Trying to Force the Parents of Accused Tampa Serial Killer to Cooperate

howell donaldson trai

Howell Donaldson III

The state has charged Howell “Trai” Donaldson III with four counts of murder for a string of killings in the Seminole Heights area of Tampa in the last few weeks. The State then subpoenaed his parents, Howell Donaldson, Jr. and Rosita Donaldson, to ask them about his history, including criminal, mental health and so forth. His parents, who were concerned that the State may try to use any evidence they provided to put their son to death, refused to answer the State’s questions or to cooperate. While the concerns may be sympathetic, there is no parental privilege applicable in this circumstance.

The State moved to hold them in contempt, and a hearing was held today in court. The Judge ruled that they would have to comply with the subpoena and to testify. He has given them until January 5, 2018 to answer the prosecutors questions or risk being found in contempt of court, which could include jail time.

This is fascinating, from a legal perspective, and the first time I’ve seen something like it. They were lawfully served with a subpoena (probably an Instanter), and the judge probably correctly orders them to comply under the law. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The serial murders he is charged with are shocking, as four seemingly unconnected, innocent people were killed. The young man accused was a college graduate who was apparently polite, even with the cops that arrested him. This case will be in the headlines for some time.

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Florida Man Incarcerated for Streaming Video of a Trial

jonathan-clyde-davis

Jonathan Clyde Davis

A man in North Florida was found in contempt of court last week and sentenced to 6 months in jail for posting a live stream of a trial on Facebook Live. Jonathan Davis was sentenced to 6 months in jail in Gainesville, which is the maximum possible sentence for contempt of court. Prosecutors indicated that witnesses were already reluctant to testify in the murder case that was going on, and that the streaming may have been a tactic to discourage participation.

However, there are several problems with this charge, primarily the First Amendment. People have a protected right to publish, and there’s nothing that would indicate that the courtroom had been closed. Generally open court is open court, and is not only open to the public, it is open to being recorded and being disseminated. (For that matter, all court proceedings are recorded). Apparently there is an administrative order that people must get permission to record or broadcast, but it is unclear if Mr. Davis knew about that order. There’s even an issue whether that order is Unconstitutional, though there is clearly an interest in the court in making sure cameras do not disrupt the proceedings.

At first blush this case is going to have difficulty holding muster on appeal. Apparently, he lied to the judge about what he was doing, and if the judge couched his conviction on that, he might be upheld. The Gainesville Sun spoke to UF Law professor Kenneth Nunn, who astutely points out that a Direct Contempt proceeding may not have even been appropriate since the Bailiff’s alerted the judge Mr. Davis’ activity. The fact that Mr. Davis was streaming is not itself inherently disruptive. One can appreciate why the court and the prosecutor are concerned, but the proceedings in open court are always public and subject to publication.

The State was still able to obtain a conviction on the second-degree murder charges.

Drunk Juror’s Contempt Conviction Overturned

Florida Supreme Court

The Florida Supreme Court building

The Florida Supreme Court overturned the contempt conviction and jail sentence for juror Noel Plank, saying that the procedure for trying his contempt hearing was flawed, and that he should have been entitled to an attorney. The court found that since the drinking that led to his intoxication occurred out of the court’s presence, it should not have been heard as ‘direct criminal contempt’ [think of an angry defendant making a scene in a courtroom: that would be direct contempt]. Rather, the court found that it should have been treated as ‘indirect criminal contempt’ [think of someone going home and refusing to obey a court order after they leave]. The courts have long held that those accused of contemptuous conduct are entitled to attorneys for indirect contempt hearings, and that this proceeding was properly considered indirect.

Plank had already served 17 days in jail, when the court reduced his sentence. Since this sentence was overturned on procedural grounds, he could technically be facing a new hearing for indirect contempt, though I doubt anyone wants to go to the trouble and expense of prosecuting a man who already served his time.

No Jail for Crime Stoppers Tip Eater

Richard Masten as he eats a piece of paper in court

Richard Masten as he eats a piece of paper in court

Richard Masten was found in contempt of court for refusing to turn over information related to a tip called in to Miami Dade Crime Stoppers. Crime Stoppers guarantees anonymity to its tipsters, and Masten would not divulge the information and risk the credibility of Crime Stoppers: to the point that he was willing to go to jail. He found out today that he won’t have to go to jail: the judge ordered him to write a memo/report on the legalities of anonymous tips and court orders. Masten says he’ll do it again to protect the integrity of the program. If this tip gets turned over, every defense attorney will try to get the tip info, and Crime Stoppers would be worthless.

I’d like to see his report. I’m curious, as the judge mentioned public records. Now, anything Crime Stoppers emailed to a state agency would be come public record: but the forum for getting that would be through the public agency. For instance, if someone emails me a tip, and I pass part of that along to the police, only the part that I passed along is public record. That’s not to say I couldn’t be compelled to give up the rest of it, but as a private citizen, my records do no become public unless I send them in whole to a public entity. On the other hand, if I were a business that makes a practice of trying to collect anonymous information: I would probably not store records that could later be subpoenaed and destroy that anonymity. That’s why Crime Stoppers uses numbers in lieu of names. I hope they don’t hang on to more identifying info, for the sake of the tipsters.

Chad Johnson is Getting Out : Ocho Freed!

Chad Ochocinco Johnson Celebration

Chad Ochocinco Johnson Celebration

The judge who sentenced Chad Johnson to 30 days in jail has relented, after his apology and request by his attorney, and agreed to let Chad out of jail. Mr. Johnson is still on probation, and must check in and do his community service, plus whatever counseling and fines remain to be completed.

Deadspin notes that his situation is turning unfortunate, as he’s losing money, but still harbors hope of getting a shot to get back to the NFL. This latest jail stint is unlikely to facilitate that, or a job with a TV network. It’s a shame, because he had a lot of talent on the football field. #freeocho

Florida Attorney General Stands Up for Chad Johnson

Attorney General Pamela Bondi

Attorney General Pamela Bondi

Pam Bondi, the non-nonsense, chief law enforcement officer of the State of Florida weighed in on TMZ, and even she feels the punishment doesn’t fit the crime… or in this case, non-crime. Bondi told TMZ it shows questionable judicial temperament. Ms. Bondi a former prosecutor and Fox News contributor, has never been accused of being soft on crime. Somebody needs to ask “Chain Gang Charlie” Charlie Crist how he feels about it.

Also, there is now a Free Ochocinco Facebook page. #freeocho

Woman Who Flipped the Bird to a Judge Earning Redemption

Penelope Soto at First Appearance

Penelope Soto at First Appearance

Penelope Soto went viral a few weeks ago, when she flipped off a judge at first appearance and got held in contempt. I discussed why the judge was allowed to do that, but how several things went awry that denied Ms. Soto her due process. Her contempt sentence was subsequently set aside, and she appeared before a different judge for status yesterday, and was congratulated for the progress she was making. None of the stories I’ve seen have identified her attorney or attorneys, but they should be commended for their representation. They got the judge to set aside the contempt, and have gotten her into drug counseling which seems to be helping her out.