Direct Criminal Contempt


Ex parte H. Chase Dearman, [Ms. 1180911, June 26, 2020] __ So. 3d __ (Ala. 2020). On certiorari review, the Court (Mendheim, J.; Parker, C.J., and Bolin, Wise, Bryan, Sellers, Stewart, and Mitchell, JJ., concur; Shaw, J., concurs in the result) reverses the Court of Criminal Appeals’s affirmance of the Mobile Circuit Court’s finding of criminal contempt against attorney Chase Dearman relating to his actions in stating an objection in a probation revocation hearing. “Direct contempt” is defined in Rule 33.1(b)(1), Ala. R. Crim. P., as “... disorderly or insolent behavior or other misconduct committed in open court, in the presence of the judge, that disturbs the court’s business, where all of the essential elements of the misconduct occur in the presence of the court and are actually observed by the court, and where immediate action is essential to prevent diminution of the court’s dignity and authority before the public.” Ms. *6, n. 3. The scope of appellate review on the issue of direct contempt is limited to questions of law and, if there is any evidence to support its finding, the judgment of the trial court will not be disturbed. Ms. *10, citing Holland v. State, 800 So. 2d 602, 604 (Ala. Crim. App. 2000).

The Court concludes the affirmance of the circuit court’s finding of direct contempt was in conflict with Hawthorne v. State, 611 So. 2d 436 (Ala. Crim. App. 1992) and that there was no evidence to support it:

... the record is devoid of any evidence that Dearman’s conduct “disturb[ed] the court’s business” and that “immediate action [was] essential to prevent diminution of the court’s dignity and authority before the public.” Rule 33.1(b)(1). The evidence before us indicates that Dearman, by trying to make an objection on the record to preserve the issue for appellate review, was simply trying to engage the court in the business before it, not detract from it. The immediate action taken by the circuit court in silencing Dearman was not to prevent Dearman from diminishing the court’s dignity or authority, but to prevent Dearman from asserting a necessary objection on behalf of his client. When finally given the opportunity to present mitigating evidence as to why Dearman continually attempted to state his objection on the record ... Dearman specifically stated that his intent was “only to fulfill my duty as the advocate for my client.”

Ms. **16-17.

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