397 U.S. 337 (1970), 606, Illinois v. Allen

Docket Nº:No. 606
Citation:397 U.S. 337, 90 S.Ct. 1057, 25 L.Ed.2d 353
Party Name:Illinois v. Allen
Case Date:March 31, 1970
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 337

397 U.S. 337 (1970)

90 S.Ct. 1057, 25 L.Ed.2d 353




No. 606

United States Supreme Court

March 31, 1970

Argued February 24, 1970




Respondent, who was on trial for robbery, was removed from the courtroom for repeated disruptive behavior and the use of vile and abusive language directed at the trial judge, notwithstanding the judge's prior warning that removal would follow another outburst. Appointed counsel represented respondent during the period respondent was not allowed in the courtroom, principally the presentation of the State's case. Having given some assurances of good conduct, respondent was allowed to return to the courtroom while appointed counsel presented his defense. Respondent was convicted. Following the State Supreme Court's affirmance, respondent filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, contending that he had been deprived of his right under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to confront the witnesses against him. The District Court declined to issue the writ. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to attend his own trial was so "absolute" that, regardless of how unruly his conduct, he could never be held to have lost that right so long as he insisted on it, as respondent had.


1. A defendant can lose his right to be present at trial if, following the judge's warning that he will be removed if his disruptive behavior continues, he nevertheless insists on conducting himself in such a disruptive manner that his trial cannot proceed if he remains in the courtroom. He can reclaim the right to be present as soon as he is willing to comport himself with decorum and respect. Pp. 342-343.

2. A trial judge confronted by a defendant's disruptive conduct can exercise discretion to meet the circumstances of the case, and though no single formula is best for all situations, there are at least three constitutionally permissible approaches for the court's handling of an obstreperous defendant: (1) bind and gag him as a last resort, thereby keeping him present; (2) cite him for criminal or civil contempt; or (3) remove him from the courtroom, while the trial continues, until he promises to conduct himself properly. Pp. 343-346.

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3. On the facts of this case, the trial judge did not abuse his discretion, respondent, through his disruptive behavior, having lost his right to confrontation under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 345-347.

413 F.2d 232, reversed.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him. . . ." We have held that the Fourteenth Amendment makes the guarantees of this clause obligatory upon the States. Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400 (1965). One of the most basic of the rights guaranteed by the Confrontation Clause is the accused's right to be present in the courtroom at every stage of his trial. Lewis v. United States, 146 U.S. 370 (1892). The question presented in this case is whether an accused can claim the benefit of this constitutional right to remain in the courtroom while, at the same time, he engages in speech and conduct which is so noisy, disorderly, and disruptive that it is exceedingly difficult or wholly impossible to carry on the trial.

The issue arose in the following way. The respondent, Allen, was convicted by an Illinois jury of armed robbery, and was sentenced to serve 10 to 30 years in the Illinois State Penitentiary. The evidence against him showed

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that, on August 12, 1956, he entered a tavern in Illinois and, after ordering a drink, took $200 from the bartender at gunpoint. The Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed his conviction, People v. Allen, 37 Ill.2d 167, 226 N.E.2d 1 (1967), and this Court denied certiorari. 389 U.S. 907 (1967). Later, Allen filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, alleging that he had been wrongfully deprived by the Illinois trial judge of his constitutional right to remain present throughout his trial. Finding no constitutional violation, the District Court declined to issue the writ. The Court of Appeals reversed, 413 F.2d 232 (1969), Judge Hastings dissenting.

The facts surrounding Allen's expulsion from the courtroom are set out in [90 S.Ct. 1059] the Court of Appeals' opinion sustaining Allen's contention:

After his indictment and during the pretrial stage, the petitioner [Allen] refused court-appointed counsel and indicated to the trial court on several occasions that he wished to conduct his own defense. After considerable argument by the petitioner, the trial judge told him,

I'll let you be your own lawyer, but I'll ask Mr. Kelly [court-appointed counsel] [to] sit in and protect the record for you, insofar as possible.

The trial began on September 9, 1957. After the State's Attorney had accepted the first four jurors following their voir dire examination, the petitioner began examining the first juror and continued at great length. Finally, the trial judge interrupted the petitioner, requesting him to confine his questions solely to matters relating to the prospective juror's qualifications. At that point, the petitioner started to argue with the judge in a most abusive and disrespectful manner. At last, and seemingly in desperation, the judge asked appointed

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counsel to proceed with the examination of the jurors. The petitioner continued to talk, proclaiming that the appointed attorney as not going to act as his lawyer. He terminated his remarks by saying, "When I go out for lunchtime, you're [the judge] going to be a corpse here." At that point, he tore the file which his attorney had and threw the papers on the floor. The trial judge thereupon stated to the petitioner, "One more outbreak of that sort and I'll remove you from the courtroom." This warning had no effect on the petitioner. He continued to talk back to the judge, saying,

There's not going to be no trial, either. I'm going to sit here and you're going to talk and you can bring your shackles out and straight jacket and put them on me and tape my mouth, but it will do no good, because there's not going to be no trial.

After more abusive remarks by the petitioner, the trial judge ordered the trial to proceed in the petitioner's absence. The petitioner was removed from the courtroom. The voir dire examination then continued, and the jury was selected in the absence of the petitioner.

After a noon recess, and before the jury was brought into the courtroom, the petitioner, appearing before the judge, complained about the fairness of the trial and his appointed attorney. He also said he wanted to be present in the court during his trial. In reply, the judge said that the petitioner would be permitted to remain in the courtroom if he "behaved [himself] and [did] not interfere with the introduction of the case." The jury was brought in and seated. Counsel for the petitioner then moved to exclude the witnesses from the courtroom. The [petitioner] protested this effort

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on the part of his attorney, saying:

There is going to be no proceeding. I'm going to start talking and I'm going to keep on talking all through the trial. There's not going to be no trial like this. I want my sister and my friends here in court to testify for me.

The trial judge thereupon ordered the petitioner removed from the courtroom.

413 F.2d at 233-234. After this second removal, Allen remained out of the courtroom during the presentation of the State's case in chief, except that he was brought in on several occasions for purposes of identification. During one of these latter appearances, Allen responded to one of the judge's questions with vile and abusive language. After the prosecution's case had been presented, the trial judge reiterated his promise to Allen that he could return to the courtroom whenever he agreed to conduct himself properly. Allen gave some assurances of proper [90 S.Ct. 1060] conduct, and was permitted to be present through the remainder of the trial, principally his defense, which was conducted by his appointed counsel.

The Court of Appeals went on to hold that the Supreme Court of Illinois was wrong in ruling that Allen had, by his conduct, relinquished his constitutional right to be present, declaring that:

No conditions may be imposed on the absolute right of a criminal defendant to be present at all stages of the proceeding. The insistence of a defendant that he exercise this right under unreasonable conditions does not amount to a waiver. Such conditions, if insisted upon, should and must be dealt with in a manner that does not compel the relinquishment of his right.

In light of the decision in Hopt v. Utah, 110 U.S. 574 . . . (1884) and Shields v. United States, 273

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U.S. 583 . . . (1927), as well as the constitutional mandate of the sixth amendment, we are of the view that the defendant should not have been excluded from the courtroom during his trial despite his disruptive and disrespectful conduct. The proper course for the trial judge was to have restrained the defendant by whatever means necessary, even if those means included his being shackled and gagged.

413 F.2d at 235.

The Court of Appeals felt that the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to be present at his own trial was so "absolute" that, no matter how unruly or disruptive the defendant's conduct might be, he could never be held to have lost that right so long as he continued to insist upon it, as Allen clearly did. Therefore the Court of Appeals concluded that a trial judge could never expel a defendant from his own trial, and that the...

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