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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. GERALD FORD (02/13/81)

February 13, 1981

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
GERALD FORD, A/K/A GERALD FORD AFRICA, APPELLANT



No. 1353 October Term, 1977, Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence in the Court of Common Pleas, Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, Nos. 958, 966 November Term, 1976.

Before Price, Watkins, and Montgomery, JJ.

Per Curiam

The judgment of sentence is affirmed on the able and comprehensive opinion of Judge Paul Ribner.

Exhibit "B"

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF PHILADELPHIA COUNTY

COMMONWEALTH v. GERALD FORD, a/k/a GERALD FORD AFRICA

NOVEMBER TERM, 1976

Nos. 958, 959, 960, 961, 962, 963, 964, 965, 966

COMMONWEALTH v. ROBERT MOSES, a/k/a ROBERT AFRICA

NOVEMBER TERM, 1976

Nos. 967, 968, 969, 970, 971

COMMONWEALTH v. CONRAD HAMPTON, a/k/a CONRAD HAMPTON AFRICA

NOVEMBER TERM, 1976

Nos. 972, 973, 974, 975, 976, 977

Opinion OF THE COURT

Defendants in the instant case are members of an organization known as MOVE. On November 5, 1976, other members of this organization were before the Honorable Edward Blake for sentencing in courtroom 788, City Hall. Following the imposition of jail sentences, an unruly protest erupted, instigated by members of MOVE who were spectators in the courtroom.

Outside the courtroom, in the hallway, as deputy sheriffs were escorting those sentenced defendants in their custody to the Sheriff's cell block, the eruption by these spectators intensified. The shouting and chaotic conduct so interfered with the court's business that Judge Blake ordered participating members of the MOVE organization taken into custody.

Deputy Sheriff Sanders, consistent with Judge Blake's order, took the Eddie Gilbert Africa into custody. When Sanders and his prisoner reached the end of the corridor, the latter broke loose and began running away. Deputy Sheriff Sanders gave chase, caught Eddie Gilbert Africa and attempted to regain control of his prisoner. In the process of doing his duty, Sanders was attacked by MOVE organization members Gerald Ford Africa and Conrad Africa. Gerald Ford Africa struck Sanders in the head several times with a pair of handcuffs and yelled, "Kill the M F ." Conrad Africa also struck this complainant in the head, shoulders and upper body. Robert Africa, another MOVE member, joined in the melee and struck Sanders about his body. Sheriff's Sergeant John Gleason, who rushed to the scene in the hallway where Sanders was being beaten by the three defendants, attempted to help rescue Sanders who, by this time, was in a crouched position. In the process of this rescue attempt, Gleason was struck in the head several times by Gerald Ford Africa.

Court Officers Ken Mader and Joseph Bradley heard Deputy Sheriff Sanders plead for help and they each joined in the rescue attempt. Conrad, who resisted Mader's and Bradley's efforts to handcuff him, succeeded in striking Mader in the chest. Following Judge Blake's order to arrest those who were disorderly, Deputy Sheriff David Hartley attempted to Handcuff Gerald Ford Africa, who is approximately 6'3" tal and weighs approximately 275 pounds. With one handcuff already on his wrist, Gerald Ford Africa shoved Hartley and began dragging Hartley dow the hallway like "a dog sled." After other deputy sheriffs sudbued Sanders' attacker and took the defendants to the Sheriff's cell block, Sanders returned to the Sheriff's cell block where he again saw an irat Robert Africa, who was screaming about his allegedly victimized brother and sisters. Suddenly, withoutl provocation, Robert Africa punched Sanders in the face with a closed fist.

Charged with criminal offenses arising from this altercation, the defendants all waived their right to a jury trial. Following a 2 1/2 week trial, each defendant was convicted of various assault, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct charges. Additionally, on February 25, 1977, following repeated and blatant examples of contumacious behavior, each defendant was held in contempt of court and sentenced summarily. Although the defendants moved for a mistrial, the trial was not terminated.

Each defendant raises the same allegations of error. Although the defendants' allegations of error fail to meet the specificity requirements of Commonwealth v. Clair, Pa., 326 A.2d 272 (1974), allowance were made for their lack of legal training and a determination on the merits was made by the court.

The first general allegation of error is that the trial court was biased and incapable of giving the defendant a fair trial. The defendants suggest, in support of this allegation, that when the trial judge issued contempt citations during the trial, he was thus rendered unfit to sit in judgment. This position is clearly without merit.

In proceeding toward an ultimate determination of an accused' guilt or innocence, it is the court's responsibility to maintain order Prior to holding the present defendants in contempt of court, they were warned, at various times, that their misconduct could result in a contempt citation and/or their removal from the courtroom. The defendant persisted and accordingly were, quite properly, held in contempt of court, Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337 (1970). It is the defendants' position that the contempt order, ipso facto, should have rendered the trialand immediate nullity. This consequence is precisely the opposite result sought to be obtained by the imposition of the contempt citations. The purpose of the contempt citations was to return order to the courtroom and permit the trial to proceed to a conclusion. As the Supreme Court pointed out in Commonwealth v. Africa, Pa., 353 A.2d 855 (1976), a mistrial precipitated by the defendants' misconduct is "a defeat for the judicial system, because its orderly process has been frustrated."

Here, this court refused to allow the contumacious behavior of the defendants to interfere with its obligation to proceed to a verdict on the merits. A review of the instant record reveals that the trial judge exhibited great patience, restraint, composure and dignity inthe face of numerous insults, threats and provocations. The weakness in defendants' argument is apparent. They attempted to bait the trial judge to the point where he was compelled to hold them in contempt to maintain order, and they argue that he thus became incompetent to judge them fairly and the trial must be aborted. If this were true, the defendants would never reach judgment because no trial involving these defendants would be completed. There is absolutely nothing in this record to demonstrate that the contempt findings in any way prevented a fair and impartial trial on the merits. On the contrary, the not-guilty findings on many charges indicate that the court ruled in favor of the defendants where any reasonable doubt existed.

The defendants next allege, generally, that their right of cros-examination was unfairly limited by the court. A review of the record which show that the present trial's great length is actually attributed to the uncommon latitude afforded defendants by the court. Every conceivable opportunity was given to the defendants to test the Commonwealth's case. Further, and similarly, the defendants allege that their oral argument was improperly limited when they were not permitted to read the guidelines espoused by their founder, John Africa. This final allegation heavily underlines and is at the heart of the defendants' misunderstanding of our judicial system. While the defendants are entitled to their beliefs and opinions, they fail to appreciate that these beliefs are not on trial. The trial court has the duty to keep the trial focused on the narrow issue of guilt or innocence. Africa, Supra, at 863. Orderly process is clearly thwarted if the trial process degenerates into a forum for espousing philosophical and religious beliefs. Proselytizing may have its place in American life but, in a courtroom, it is disruptive and the antithesis of the trial's function. The defendants' position that the trial process affords them this opportunity is misfounded. Nonetheless the court did allow the defendants frequent opportunities to orate and present their political beliefs, but only when the defendants made it quite clear that they wanted to read repetitious arguments for several hours, concerning the failure of all mankind to create a perfect world, that the court drew the line. This record is quite clear that on every occasion that the trial judge limited the political statements, he first listened to enough of the statements to be able to determine that the matters were in no way relevant to any issue in the case. There was sufficient evidence and speeches admitted into evidence for the court to understand the beliefs of the defendants as bearing on their reasons for attacking the complainants on November 5, 1976.

A fair trial, to be immortal, does not have to be eternal.

The Court exercised its discretion properly as to the length of the proceedings before bringing the proceedings to a conclusion. America Bar Association Standards Relating to Function of Trial Judge 5.5 and 5.1 see also Commonwealth ex rel Friedman v. Friedman, 297 A.2d 158, 223 Pa. Super. 66 (1972); Commonwealth v. Buccieri, 26 Atl. 228, 153 Pa. 535(189)

Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, the court denied the defendants' motion for a new trial.

June 21, 1977

BY THE COURT,

RIBNER, J.

Exhibit "C"

IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF PHILADELPHIA COUNTY

COMMONWEALTH v. GERALD FORD, a/k/a GERALD FORD AFRICA

NOVEMBER TERM, 1976

Nos. 958, 959, 960, 961, 962, 963, 964, 965, 966

COMMONWEALTH v. ROBERT MOSES, a/k/a ROBERT AFRICA

NOVEMBER TERM, 1976

Nos. 967, 968, 969, 970, 971

COMMONWEALTH v. CONRAD HAMPTON, a/k/a CONRAD HAMPTON AFRICA

NOVEMBER TERM, 1976

Nos. 972, 973, 974, 975, 976, 977

Opinion OF THE COURT

Defendants, all members of the MOVE organization, were brought to trial before this Court on various assault, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest charges arising from an altercation with members of the Sheriff's Office which took place on November 5, 1976.The defendants demanded the right to act as their own counsel. Trained legal counsel were appointed to advise them.

In the midst of trial on these charges, the defendants were held in contempt of court on February 25, 1977, and sentenced summarily. Thereafter, the trial proceeded to a conclusion on the merits. The acts of the defendants on February 25, 1977, which immediately preceded the issuance of the contempt citations were the latest in a continuing course of intolerable behavior by them during trial which clearly attempted to thwart orderly process.

A review of the voluminous instant trial record shows that, from the outset, the defendants subjected the Court to repeated insults, threats and accusations. Notwithstanding frequent attempts to propagandize and argue with the court on matters not germane to the trial issues, even reasonable effort was made by the court to avoid confrontations. For example, on February 14, 1977, when trial finally got underway, after two previous efforts to get all the defendants into court on February 7 and February 8, 1977, had failed, the defendants refused to follow the order to stand at the commencement of the court's afternoon session. The defendants made it clear that this intentional non-compliance with this routine procedure was meant to symbolize their lack of respect for court procedure:

(N.T. p. 109)

ROBERT AFRICA: Didn't we explain to you that we didn't stand up because we didn't respect your procedures?

THE COURT: Well, in this courtroom, as I say, I will go along with any reasonable request. However, I don't see any reason why parties cannot - why people in this courtroom cannot rise when everyone else is asked to do and everyone else does so...

ROBERT AFRICA: You say you are not familiar with the fact that we do not rise, by our religion. Anybody in City Hall, or anybody within political circles, legal circles, is aware of the fact that we do not under any circumstances stand up in the courtroom when the judge enters.

As it later became apparent in most matters of non-compliance with court orders, the defendants explained that their position on not standing was based upon deep religious conviction:

(N.T. p. 119)

ROBERT AFRICA: What makes that situation different from this, a situation where this is something that you are asking us to do which conflicts with our religion?

THE COURT: Very bluntly, I don't know of any teaching of any religion in the world that says that you should not stand up in a courtroom, you should not exhibit courtesy and respect for --

ROBERT AFRICA: The teaching of John Africa is unlike the teaching of any other religion in the world. And if you are not aware of that at this point, ...


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