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May 20 2013

Unduly harsh punishment

I was not aware of this but apparently the use of all electronic devices is banned in federal courts. Maurtez Prince, 22, of Cleveland, learned this the hard way when he was sentenced to 30 days in jail for contempt for tweeting and taking photographs of a friend of his during the latter’s sentencing hearing in the U.S. District Courthouse in Akron.

Apparently there are signs warning people that the use of electronic devices is forbidden but Prince said he had not seen them. An assistant US marshall saw him tweeting and warned him to turn it off but he persisted, saying that he thought that all he had to do was turn off the volume, which is why he was held in contempt.

The sentencing seems unduly harsh to me for what is a stupid but not malicious or even overly disruptive act. As Assistant Federal Public Defender Edward Bryan said, “Mr. Prince was very apologetic to the judge and the marshal for what he did. He wasn’t cocky at all. It was his first time in federal court and he didn’t understand the seriousness of his actions.”

My guess is that Prince is poor, as evidenced by the fact that he had a public defender. My guess is that if the child of a rich person had done this, he would not have gone to jail but have been taught a lesson by making him do community service.

6 comments

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  1. 1
    whatever

    Yes, I would love to hear a Jonathan Turley discuss his views on this, why recordings or broadcasts of what happens in court cannot be made, and why silence texting cannot be allowed.

    I suspect this won’t change until that idiot ImprovEverywhere group stages a mass texting in a NY court room.

  2. 2
    unbound

    30 days? Mr. Prince “wasn’t cocky”, but it appears that the judge was.

  3. 3
    Jockaira

    The penalty of community service for being in contempt of court would be most unusual. The usual sentence is either a fine or jail time. If the fine cannot or will not be paid immediately then it’s off to jail until the fine is paid in full.
    .
    Since the judge sentenced Mr Prince to 30 days, it is likely that there were other isues than the simple use of an electronic device, such as a bad attitude–which is the essence of contempt.
    .
    30 days may not be significant in this case. Mr Prince may ultimately be sentenced to more time for his original case, in that situation his sentence for contempt would probably be wrapped into a concurrent serving of his time.
    .
    As for “being taught a lesson”, being sent to jail will do that.

  4. 4
    ildi

    An assistant US marshall saw him tweeting and warned him to turn it off but he persisted, saying that he thought that all he had to do was turn off the volume, which is why he was held in contempt.

    This reminds me of an episode on Parking Wars where people were shocked to get tickets in a no stopping zone for parking, since the sign didn’t say No Parking, it said No Stopping.

  5. 5
    MNb

    “As for “being taught a lesson”, being sent to jail will do that.”
    Which lesson? “You shall not tweet in courtroom” is probably one; “American penal system sucks major balls so to hell with authorities” is probably another. Those are the lessons yóú taught me.

  6. 6
    Lucas Beauchamp

    Different federal courts have different rules regarding electronic devices. Few courts will prohibit the possession of a cell phone. Here in Northern California, attorneys can use laptops, PDAs, and like devices, which probably include smart phones. It is hard to imagine a judge getting bent out of shape because a counsel has texted his assistant to “bring me the Johnson file, stat!” Nor will a judge be upset with a lawyer looking up a statute or opinion on a smart phone.

    The Western District of Texas has an amusing progression of rules that recognize that it cannot hold back history. Starting with an absolute ban on cell phones in the courthouse, the court moved on to a requirement that they be turned off in the courtroom to a prohibition on audible alerts when texts come in.

    Hurrah for banning video recording in the courtroom. People should be able to come to court without worrying that their testimony will end up on YouTube.

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