When a Court Can (and Cannot) Find You in Direct Criminal Contempt in Your Florida Criminal Case

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges in Florida, there are many things with which you’ll likely need to concern yourself. However, one thing that you likely won’t expect to have to address is being found in criminal contempt of court unless you engage in some very improper behavior. In the case of one man facing drug charges, the Second District Court of Appeal reversed a contempt finding against him because he neither disrupted nor embarrassed the trial court. For all of the twists and turns of your criminal case, it is important to have an experienced Florida drug crime lawyer defending you at every step along the way.

The case began when Ulysses was arrested in Hillsborough County on multiple drug charges, including cocaine possession, marijuana possession, and drug paraphernalia possession. On the morning of the man’s scheduled hearing, the man’s lawyer asked the court to “pass the case” (meaning to delay it briefly) because he and the prosecution were working on a plea deal, and he needed to discuss the terms with his client. Eventually, Ulysses’ attorney informed the prosecutor that he couldn’t ethically go forward with discussing plea deal terms with the defendant because the lawyer was concerned that the defendant was impaired.

The judge called the lawyers to the bench, where the defense lawyer acknowledged, under questioning from the judge, that he smelled alcohol in the vicinity of the defendant. The judge then put the defendant under oath and asked him if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Ulysses said no. The judge then ordered the defendant taken into custody and tested for drugs or alcohol.

In jail, Ulysses registered a .176 on his blood-alcohol breath test. Based on this result and the defendant’s statement to the court that he hadn’t been drinking, the judge concluded that Ulysses had lied to him. He found the defendant in direct criminal contempt of court and sentenced him to 30 days in jail.

The defendant appealed and got his contempt and 30-day sentence overturned. The law creates a very specific set of circumstances in which a judge can find you in direct criminal contempt of court. One of the requirements is that all of the allegedly contemptuous conduct must be observed directly by the judge. In Ulysses’ situation, the judge didn’t see the defendant drink. The judge also didn’t see the defendant blow a .176 on a breathalyzer test; he relied upon the observations of an officer at the jail.

The defendant did not drink in front of the judge. He did not act inappropriately in front of the judge. He may have failed to tell the truth to the judge when he said he wasn’t under the influence, but he explained himself (when the judge gave him an opportunity to show cause why he shouldn’t be held in contempt) by stating that he had been drinking the night before, and he interpreted the judge’s question to pertain only to drinking alcohol that morning.

Another reason why contempt wasn’t appropriate in this circumstance, according to the appeals court, was that Ulysses didn’t do any of the primary things that contempt is generally intended to address. His behavior neither embarrassed the court nor disrupted any of the court’s proceedings.

Your criminal case may go in some unpredictable directions as the process plays out. One way to make sure that you are fully prepared is to make sure that you have skilled counsel defending you from the beginning. The experienced Tampa Bay drug crime attorneys at Blake & Dorsten, P.A. have been defending the rights of the accused for many years. Our experienced attorneys are ready to discuss your case with you. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation and get the answers and the reliable assistance you need.

More blog posts:

What to Do When You’re Questioned by Law Enforcement Officers in Florida, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, June 19, 2017

Proximity Doesn’t Equal Control, Florida Appeals Court Says in Drug Conviction Reversal, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Feb. 14, 2017

Contact Information