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White v. Junior

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

May 17, 2017

Travis White, Petitioner,
v.
Daniel Junior, etc., et al., Respondents.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

         A Case of Original Jurisdiction - Habeas Corpus Lower Tribunal No. 17-15124 ZZZ.

          Carlos J. Martinez, Public Defender, and Jeffrey Paul DeSousa, Assistant Public Defender, for petitioner.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and Gabrielle Raemy Charest-Turken, Assistant Attorney General, for respondent The State of Florida.

          Before SUAREZ, C.J., and EMAS and LOGUE, JJ.

          EMAS, J.

         Travis White files this petition for writ of habeas corpus, following the trial court's entry of a judgment of direct criminal contempt, sentencing White to seven days in jail. We grant the petition.

         The cause pending below is a dependency proceeding involving White's son, T.D. White is seeking custody of his son and, during a hearing on April 25, 2017, the trial court ordered White to submit to a drug test[1] and then to return to court. White left the courtroom and the court's bailiff instructed White where to go for the court-ordered drug test. White did not return to the courtroom, and it was later discovered that White did not submit to the drug test. The trial court issued an order directing White to appear in court two days later (on April 27, 2017) and show cause why he should not be held in direct criminal contempt for failing to submit to the court-ordered drug test and for failing to return to court.

         At the April 27 final hearing, the trial court appointed counsel for White. Counsel requested additional time to investigate and prepare a defense for his newly-appointed client. The trial court denied this request and proceeded to a final hearing, after which the trial court adjudged White guilty of direct criminal contempt, took him into custody, and sentenced him to seven days in the Miami-Dade County jail.[2]

         White contends that the contempt proceedings below were improperly prosecuted as a direct criminal contempt rather than an indirect criminal contempt. This is a significant distinction, as a defendant subject to indirect criminal contempt proceedings is accorded a panoply of procedural and substantive due process safeguards not afforded to a direct criminal contemnor. See Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.840(a)-(g) (providing, inter alia, that an indirect criminal contempt proceeding requires: the issuance of a written order to show cause stating the essential facts constituting the criminal contempt; the right to be represented by counsel; a reasonable time for preparation of a defense after service of the show cause order; an arraignment on the charge; an opportunity to seek a statement of particulars or file motions and an answer to the show cause order; a formal final hearing on the charge; the right to compulsory process for the attendance of witnesses at that hearing; and the right to testify in his or her own defense). By contrast, a direct criminal contempt, which involves conduct occurring "in the actual presence of the court, " see Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.830, "may be punished summarily." Id.[3]

         The instant case manifestly required that any contempt proceedings be prosecuted as an indirect, rather than a direct, criminal contempt. The Florida Supreme Court, in Plank v. State, 190 So.3d 594, 606 (Fla. 2016), recently reaffirmed the principle established by the United States Supreme Court in In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257 (1948):

In order to be considered direct criminal contempt, all of the acts underlying the contemptuous conduct must be committed in open court in the presence of the judge, "where all of the essential elements of the misconduct are under the eye of the court [and] are actually observed by the court." Oliver, 333 U.S. at 275, 68 S.Ct. 499. If the judge needs to rely on statements and testimony from others regarding their knowledge about the contemptuous acts, the misconduct is no longer considered direct criminal contempt because additional testimony or explanation is necessary. Id. at 275-76, 68 S.Ct. 499. As the Supreme Court has stressed, "the judge must have personal knowledge of [the misconduct] acquired by his own observation of the contemptuous conduct." Id. at 275, 68 S.Ct. 499. "[K]nowledge acquired from the testimony of others, or even from the confession of the accused, would not justify conviction without a trial in which there was an opportunity for defense." Id.

         Commendably, the State concedes that the trial court erred in prosecuting this matter as a direct, rather than an indirect, criminal contempt.[4] We agree, and accordingly grant the petition, vacate the judgment of direct criminal contempt, and vacate the sentence imposed upon that judgment. We remand this cause to ...


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