418 U.S. 506 (1974), 73-5615, Codispoti v. Pennsylvania

Docket Nº:No. 73-5615
Citation:418 U.S. 506, 94 S.Ct. 2687, 41 L.Ed.2d 912
Party Name:Codispoti v. Pennsylvania
Case Date:June 26, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 506

418 U.S. 506 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 2687, 41 L.Ed.2d 912




No. 73-5615

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 1974

Argued March 25, 1974



Petitioners, Codispoti and Langnes, were tried before a judge in separate proceedings for contemptuous conduct that allegedly occurred during the course of their criminal trial before another judge, and were found guilty on each of several separate charges. The judge in the contempt proceedings, who refused petitioners' request for a jury trial, imposed consecutive sentences, Codispoti receiving six months for each of six contempts and three months for the seventh (aggregating over three years), and Langnes six months for each of five contempts and two months for the sixth (aggregating close to three years). The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed. This Court granted certiorari limited to questions raising the issue whether petitioners should have been afforded a jury trial.


1. Though a crime carrying more than a six-month sentence is a serious offense triable by jury, Frank v. United States, 395 U.S. 147; Baldwin v. New York, 399 U.S. 66, an alleged contemnor is not entitled to a jury trial simply because a strong possibility exists that upon conviction he will face a substantial term of imprisonment regardless of the punishment actually imposed. See Taylor v. Hayes, ante, p. 488. P. 512.

2. In the case of post-verdict adjudications of various acts of contempt committed during trial, the Sixth Amendment requires a jury trial if the sentences imposed aggregate more than six months, even though no sentence for more than six months was imposed for any one act of contempt. Pp. 515-517.

453 Pa. 619, 306 A.2d 294, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, and POWELL, JJ., joined and in Parts I and III of which MARSHALL, J., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 518. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, post, p. 522. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Part II of which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 523.

Page 507

WHITE, J., lead opinion

Mr. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court. *

In December, 1966, petitioners Dominick Codispoti and Herbert Langnes were codefendants with Richard Mayberry in a criminal trial ending in a verdict of guilty. Each acted as his own counsel, although legal advice was available from appointed counsel. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge pronounced Mayberry guilty of 11 contempts committed during trial and sentenced him to one to two years for each contempt. Codispoti was given like sentences for each of seven separate contempts. Langnes was sentenced to one to two years on each of six separate citations. Mayberry's total sentence was thus 11 to 22 years, Codispoti's seven to 14 years, and Langnes' six to 12 years. The contempt convictions were affirmed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. This Court granted Mayberry's petition for certiorari, 397 U.S. 1020, and vacated the judgment of the Pennsylvania court, directing that,

on remand, another judge, not bearing the sting of these slanderous remarks and having the impersonal authority of the law, [sit] in judgment on the conduct of petitioner as shown by the record.

Mayberry v. Pennsylvania, 400 U.S. 455, 466 (1971).

The contempt charges against Mayberry and petitioners were then retried in separate proceedings before another trial judge.1 Codispoti's demand for a jury was

Page 508

denied. He also moved to subpoena witnesses

to prove that my actions did not disrupt the proceedings, and I intend to prove that my actions [sic] was not contemptuous, that it was merely an answer to the provocation made by the presiding Judge.

App. 47. This motion was also denied, the court remarking that "this is an issue between the Court and you, and the record will speak for the Court, and you and counsel can speak for yourself." Ibid.

Page 509

The trial then proceeded, the State offering into evidence the relevant portions of the transcript of the 1966 criminal proceedings in the course of which the alleged contempts occurred. The State then rested. Codispoti neither testified nor called witnesses. The court found that he had committed the seven contemptuous acts as charged, and sentenced him to six months in prison for each of six contempts and a term of three months for another, all of these sentences to run consecutively.

Petitioner Langnes' trial followed a very similar course.2 He was found guilty of six separate contempts

Page 510

and sentenced to five terms of six months each and one term of two months, all to be served consecutively.

The trial court filed an opinion stating that

the only points at issue are the validity of the sentences. The question of guilt of contemptuous conduct has been confirmed by both the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania . . . and by the U.S. Supreme Court . . . ; therefore testimony at this hearing was limited to the record.

App. 35. The court also held that petitioners were not entitled to a jury trial

because the questions of guilt to which the juries' decisions would be limited had already been adjudicated adversely to the Defendants by two appellate courts. Furthermore, in the instant cases, no term of imprisonment in excess of six months was imposed for any one offense. The offenses for which sentences were imposed occurred at different times and on different dates.

Id. at 36 (footnote omitted).

Page 511

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed without opinion, one justice dissenting on the ground that petitioners were entitled to a jury trial. 453 Pa. 619, 306 A.2d 294. We granted certiorari limited to those questions raising the issue whether petitioners should have been afforded a jury trial. 414 U.S. 1063 (1973).3


In Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968), the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed to defendants in state criminal trials the right to jury trial provided in the Sixth Amendment. In a companion case, Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194 (1968), the Court held that, while petty contempts, like other petty crimes, could be tried without a jury, serious criminal contempts had to be tried with a jury if the defendant insisted on this mode of trial. Although the judgment about the seriousness of the crime is normally heavily influenced by the penalty authorized by the legislature, the Court held that, where no legislative penalty is specified and sentence is left to the discretion of the judge, as is often true in the case of criminal contempt, the pettiness or seriousness of the contempt will be judged by the penalty actually imposed. Finally, the Court recognized that sentences up to six months could be imposed for criminal

Page 512

contempt without guilt or innocence being determined by a jury, but a conviction for criminal contempt in a nonjury trial could not be sustained where the penalty imposed was 24 months in prison.

Since that time, our decisions have established a fixed dividing line between petty and serious offenses: those crimes carrying a sentence of more than six months are serious crimes, and those carrying a sentence of six months or less are petty crimes. Frank v. United States, 395 U.S. 147, 149-150 (1969); Baldwin v. New York, 399 U.S. 66, 69 (1970).4 Under these cases, we plainly cannot accept petitioners' argument that a contemnor is entitled to a jury trial simply because a strong possibility exists that he will face a substantial term of imprisonment upon conviction, regardless of the punishment actually imposed. See Taylor v. Hayes, ante, p. 488. Our cases, however, do not expressly address petitioners' remaining argument that they were entitled to jury trials because the prison sentences imposed after post-trial convictions for contemptuous acts during trial were to be served consecutively

Page 513

and, although each was no more than six months, aggregated more than six months in jail.5


There are recurring situations where the trial judge, to maintain order in the courtroom and the integrity of the trial process in the face of an "actual obstruction of justice," In re McConnell, 370 U.S. 230, 236 (1962); see also In re Little, 404 U.S. 553, 555 (1972), convicts and sentences the accused or the attorneys for either side for various acts of contempt as they occur.

Page 514

Undoubtedly, where the necessity of circumstances warrants, a contemnor may be summarily tried for an act of contempt during trial and punished by a term of no more than six months. Nor does the judge exhaust his power to convict and punish summarily whenever the punishment imposed for separate contemptuous acts during trial exceeds six months. Cf. United States v. Seale, 461 F.2d 345, 355 (CA7 1972).

Bloom v. Illinois, supra, recognized, as cases in this Court have consistently done,

the need to maintain order and a deliberative atmosphere in the courtroom. The power of a judge to quell disturbance cannot attend upon the impaneling of a jury.

391 U.S. at 210.

[A] criminal trial, in the constitutional sense, cannot take place where the courtroom is a bedlam. . . . A courtroom is a hallowed place, where trials must proceed with dignity. . . .

Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337, 351 (1970) (separate opinion of DOUGLAS, J.). See also N. Dorsen & L. Friedman, Disorder in the Court: Report of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, Special Committee on Courtroom Conduct 10-23 (1973); Burger, The Necessity for Civility, 52 F.R.D. 211, 214-215 (1971).

To allow the disruptive activities of a defendant . . . to prevent his trial is to allow him to profit from his own wrong. The Constitution would protect none of us if it prevented the courts from acting to preserve the very processes that the...

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