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COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA v. JOSEPH CAMERON (07/08/83)

decided: July 8, 1983.

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA
v.
JOSEPH CAMERON, APPELLANT



No. 80-3-799, Appeal from Judgments of Sentence of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, Trial Division, Criminal Section, November Term, 1980, Misc. 80-11, Nos. 493, 494

COUNSEL

Richard P. Haaz (Court-appointed), Philadelphia, for appellant.

Robert B. Lawler, Chief, Appeals Div., Asst. Dist. Atty., Thomas Quinn, Philadelphia, for appellee.

Roberts, C.j., and Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Hutchinson and Zappala, JJ. McDermott, J., files a dissenting opinion in which Flaherty, J., joins.

Author: Nix

[ 501 Pa. Page 573]

OPINION

This is a direct appeal*fn1 from the judgments of sentence for two citations of summary criminal contempt imposed on appellant by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. The sole issue in this appeal is whether appellant's conduct in twice intentionally failing to rise when the trial judge entered the courtroom is sufficient to support a summary

[ 501 Pa. Page 574]

    contempt conviction under subsection 3 of the Penal Contempt Statute, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 4131(3).*fn2

On November 6, 1980, after having been incarcerated for over five months because of inability to post bail, appellant's trial for various criminal offenses began. At the close of the day, all charges were nolle prossed when the complaining witness admitted the charges were false. However, during that one day trial, appellant twice refused to stand when court convened. After the first refusal, but during a recess when the jury was not present, the trial judge asked appellant why he did not stand when the court convened. Appellant responded: "I'm against the system, period." The judge then warned appellant that failure to stand the next time court formally opened would be punished with contempt. Appellant replied: "You can give me a contempt now, but I will never rise." At that point, the court held appellant in contempt and sentenced him to six months imprisonment.

The record reveals that after the court reconvened following a luncheon recess, appellant once again remained seated. Although testimony continued, during another recess, the court, out of the presence of the jury, found appellant in contempt and imposed an additional six month sentence. Appellant then requested to make a statement, to which the court agreed. Appellant stated: "This is my religious belief. I only stand up for what is right. I think that this prosecution that is going on in this courtroom is wrong." When the court inquired as to appellant's faith, appellant responded that his faith was "life."

After the entry of the nolle prosequi, the court set the next morning for the time when appellant might purge himself of the contempt. Appellant declined to apologize.

The court in its opinion found appellant guilty under subsection 3 of the summary contempt statute, 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 4131(3). ...


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