418 U.S. 488 (1974), 73-473, Taylor v. Hayes

Docket Nº:No. 73-473
Citation:418 U.S. 488, 94 S.Ct. 2697, 41 L.Ed.2d 897
Party Name:Taylor v. Hayes
Case Date:June 26, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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418 U.S. 488 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 2697, 41 L.Ed.2d 897

Taylor

v.

Hayes

No. 73-473

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 1974

Argued March 18, 1974

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF KENTUCKY

Syllabus

During a Kentucky murder trial in which petitioner was counsel for the accused, respondent trial judge informed petitioner on nine different occasions that he was in contempt of court. At the conclusion of the trial, respondent, in the jury's presence, made a statement concerning petitioner's trial conduct, and, refusing petitioner's request to respond, imposed consecutive sentences on nine counts of contempt aggregating almost four and one-half years' imprisonment, including sentences of one year's imprisonment on each of two counts. Subsequently, respondent amended the judgment to eliminate the first contempt charge and to reduce each of the latter sentences to six months' imprisonment, but was silent on whether all of the sentences were to run concurrently or consecutively. The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed, but ruled that, because the amended judgment did not direct that the sentences be served consecutively, they had to be served concurrently, thereby making the penalty actually imposed six months in jail and rendering constitutionally permissible the conviction and sentence without a jury trial.

Held:

1. Since no more than a six-month sentence was actually imposed, the eight contempts, whether considered singly or collectively, constituted petty offenses, and hence trial by jury was not required. It is not improper to permit the State, as in this instance, after conviction, to reduce a sentence to six months or less, rather than retry the contempt with a jury, since "criminal contempt is not a crime of the sort that requires the right to jury trial regardless of the penalty involved." Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194, 211. Pp. 495-496.

2. Respondent's conduct, in proceeding summarily after trial to punish petitioner for alleged contempt committed during the trial without giving him an opportunity to be heard in defense or mitigation before he was finally adjudged guilty and sentence was imposed, does not square with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Groppi v. Leslie, 404 U.S. 496. Reasonable notice of the specific charges and opportunity to be heard

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are essential in view of the heightened potential for abuse posed by the contempt power. Pp. 496-500.

3. Because it appears from the record that "marked personal feelings were present on both sides," and that marks of "unseemly conduct [had] left personal stings," Mayberry v. Pennsylvania, 400 U.S. 455, 464, another judge should have been substituted for respondent [94 S.Ct. 2699] for the purpose of finally disposing of the contempt charges. Pp. 501-503.

494 S.W.2d 737, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, .J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., and in Parts II and III of which DOUGLAS and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion dissenting from Part I, post, p. 504. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 523.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question in this case concerns the validity of a criminal contempt judgment entered against petitioner by reason of certain events occurring in the course of a criminal trial in the courts of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Petitioner was retained counsel for Narvel Tinsley, a Negro, who, along with his brother Michael, was

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charged with the murders of two police officers. According to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, the "murders created some considerable sensation in Louisville . . . , and . . . newspaper coverage was overly abundant." 494 S.W.2d 737, 739 (1973). Trial before respondent trial judge began on October 18, 1971, and was completed on October 29.

On nine different occasions during this turbulent trial, respondent, out of the hearing of the jury and most often in chambers, informed petitioner that he was in contempt of court. The first charge was immediately reduced to a warning, and no sentence was imposed at the time of charge in that or any other instance. Petitioner was permitted to respond to most, but not all, of the charges.1

At the conclusion of the trial on October 29 and after a guilty verdict had been returned, respondent, in the presence of the jury, made a statement concerning petitioner's trial conduct. Refusing petitioner's request to respond, and declaring that "I have you" on nine counts, respondent proceeded to impose a jail term on each count totaling almost four and one-half years: 30 days on the first count, 60 days on the second, 90 days on the third, six months on counts four, five, six, and seven, and one year each on counts eight and nine, "all

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to run consecutive."2 A few days later, petitioner was also barred from practicing law by respondent in his division of the [94 S.Ct. 2700] Criminal Branch of the Jefferson Circuit Court.

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While petitioner's appeal was pending, on March 2, 1972, respondent entered a corrected judgment containing a "certificate" which described the nine charges of contempt3 but eliminated the first charge as having been

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reduced to a [94 S.Ct. 2701] warning and reduced the sentence on each of the last two counts to six months in jail. The corrected judgment was silent as to whether the sentence were to run concurrently or consecutively.

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The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that petitioner was guilty of each and every contempt charged. In its view, petitioner's actions

were deliberate, delaying, or planned disruptive tactics which did, in fact, create such an atmosphere in the court that he, if permitted to continue, would have appeared to be the star performer in the center ring of a three-ring circus.

494 S.W.2d at 740. Petitioner had committed "innumerable acts . . . which clearly reflected his contempt for the court as well as the judicial system of this Commonwealth . . ." and had been "overbearing, contemptuous, and obnoxiously persistent in his questions and objections. . . ." Id. at 741. The Court of Appeals also concluded that petitioner had not launched any "personal attack" on the trial judge, and that the judge had neither conducted himself as an "`activist seeking combat'" nor had become so personally embroiled that he was disqualified to sit in judgment on the charges of contempt, although his remarks prior to entering judgment of contempt at the conclusion of the trial were "inappropriate." Id. at 744-745.

The Court of Appeals further ruled that, because the amended judgment did not "direct that the sentences, as amended, be served consecutively . . . they must be served concurrently." Id. at 746. Thus, "[t]he penalty actually imposed on Daniel Taylor [was] six months in jail," and his conviction and sentence without a jury trial

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were deemed constitutionally permissible. Id. at 747. The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled, however, that it had exclusive authority to discipline or disbar attorneys, and that, in any event, the rule in Kentucky since 1917 had been that suspension from practice was not a permissible punishment for criminal contempt. The order prohibiting petitioner from practicing in the Jefferson Circuit Court, Criminal Branch, Second Division, was therefore reversed. We granted certiorari limited to specified issues, 414 U.S. 1063 (1973).

I

Petitioner contends that any charge of contempt of court, without exception, must be tried to a jury. Quite to the contrary, however, our cases hold that petty contempt like other petty criminal offenses may be tried without a jury, and that contempt of court is a petty offense when the penalty actually imposed does not exceed six months or a longer penalty has not been expressly authorized by statute. Cheff v. Schnackenberg, 384 U.S. 373 (1966); Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194 (1968); Dyke v. Taylor Implement Mfg. Co. Inc., 391 U.S. 216 (1968); Frank v. United States, 395 U.S. 147 (1969); Baldwin v. New York, 399 U.S. 66 (1970). Hence, although petitioner was ultimately found guilty and sentenced separately on eight counts of contempt, the sentences were to run concurrently and were, as the Kentucky Court of Appeals held, [94 S.Ct. 2702] equivalent to a single sentence of six months. Cf. Codispoti v. Pennsylvania, post, p. 506. The original sentences imposed on the separate counts were to run consecutively, and totaled almost four and one-half years, with two individual counts each carrying a year's sentence. But the trial court itself entered an amended judgment which was understood by the Kentucky Court of Appeals to impose no more than a six-month

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sentence. The eight contempts, whether considered singly or collectively, thus constituted petty offenses, and trial by jury was not required.

It is argued that a State should not be permitted, after conviction, to reduce the sentence to less than six months and thereby obviate a jury trial. The thrust of our decisions, however, is to the contrary: in the absence of legislative authorization of serious penalties for contempt, a State may choose to try any contempt without a jury if it determines not to impose a sentence longer than six months. We discern no material difference between this choice and permitting the State, after conviction, to reduce a sentence to six months or less, rather than to retry the contempt with a jury. Cf. Cheff v. Schnackenberg, supra at 380. In either case, the State itself has determined that the contempt is not so serious as to warrant more than a six-month sentence. We remain firmly committed to the proposition that "criminal contempt is not a crime of the sort that requires the right to jury trial regardless of the penalty involved." Bloom v. Illinois, supra, at 211; cf. Argersinger v. Hamlin, ...

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