Appeal From the Order Entered November 19, 1996, Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, Philadelphia County, No. C.P. # 94-05-4154-1/1.
Appeal From the Judgment of Sentence November 13, 1996, Court of Common Pleas, Criminal Division, Philadelphia County, No. M.C. # 96-11-0943 1/1, No. C.P. # 92-01-3279 1/1.
Before: Cavanaugh, Schiller and Montemuro**, JJ. Opinion BY Cavanaugh, J. Justice Montemuro files a Dissenting Statement.
** Retired Justice assigned to the Superior Court.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cavanaugh
OPINION BY CAVANAUGH, J.:
These two consolidated appeals present the issue of the propriety of conviction and sentence for the crime of summary criminal contempt at bench warrant hearings where the appellants had violated conditions of bail and there was no pre-hearing notice that liability for criminal contempt and sentencing would be considered at the hearing.
Each appellant was adJudged guilty of criminal contempt and sentenced to five months and twenty-nine days of imprisonment. They had each failed to appear as required at previous court proceedings. Appellants first argue that the convictions are defective since there was no evidence that the alleged contemptuous conduct was observed by the court and there was no compelling necessity for immediate action to vindicate the court's authority.
Since conviction and sentence for summary criminal contempt may be carried out without some of the usual procedural safeguards which normally attend criminal proceedings, the application of the sanction has been limited to narrowly defined circumstances. The need for immediate vindication of the court's authority has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court:
Only such conduct as created 'an open threat to the orderly procedure of the Court and such a flagrant defiance of the person and presence of the Judge before the public' that, if not instantly suppressed and punished, demoralization of the Court's authority will follow.
In Re Oliver , 333 U.S. 257, 274, 68 S. Ct. 499, 92 L. Ed. 682, 695 (1948).
Our Supreme Court has similarly stated:
The power to impose summary criminal contempt is available only for
such conduct as created an open threat to the orderly procedure of the court and such flagrant defiance of the person and presence of the Judge before the public that, if not instantly suppressed and ...