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[U] Commonwealth v. Thompson

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 20, 2014

COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, Appellee
v.
ROBERT THOMPSON, Appellant

NON-PRECEDENTIAL DECISION

Appeal from the Judgment of Sentence entered April 2, 2013, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Criminal Division, at No(s): MC-51-MD-0001128-2013 and MC-51-MD-0001129-2013

BEFORE: ALLEN, JENKINS, and FITZGERALD [*] , JJ.

MEMORANDUM

ALLEN, J.

Robert Thompson ("Appellant") appeals from the judgment of sentence imposed after the trial court found him guilty of direct criminal contempt.[1] Appellant presents two issues for our review:

1. Was not the evidence insufficient to justify the trial court's finding that [Appellant] acted in contempt of court?
2. Did not the trial court, in adjudicating [A]ppellant guilty of contempt of court, violate his rights to due process and the assistance of counsel, insofar as the court failed to provide notice of charges and of the behavior constituting the alleged contempt, refused to allow [A]ppellant the meaningful opportunity to consult with counsel prior to or during contempt proceedings, denied [A]ppellant the right to present any defense, denied [A]ppellant the right to present evidence following a finding of guilt, failed to provide [A]ppellant with or inform him of his right to a jury trial where the aggregate sentence imposed exceeded six months, and behaved with clear personal bias and animus towards [A]ppellant?

Appellant's Brief at 3.

In his first issue, Appellant argues that there was insufficient evidence for the trial court to find him in contempt where "Appellant's behavior was entirely innocent and suggestive of no misbehavior and where his actions were not intended to obstruct and did not obstruct the administration of justice." Appellant's Brief at 15.

We initially note that our review of the evidence established at a summary contempt hearing requires this Court to review only the evidence dictated on the record by the trial court, as a summary hearing by definition entails only evidence observed first-hand from the bench. Commonwealth v. Moody, supra. To find direct criminal contempt, there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt of (1) misconduct; (2) in the presence of the court; (3) committed with the intent to obstruct justice; and (4) that obstructs the administration of justice. Stewart v. Foxworth, 65 A.3d 468, 472 (Pa. Super. 2013) (citation omitted). To obstruct justice, as required to sustain a conviction for direct criminal contempt, the conduct must "significantly disrupt" the judicial proceedings. Commonwealth v. Williams, 753 A.2d 856, 863 (Pa. Super. 2000).

Our review of the record, specifically all 28 pages of the notes of testimony from the voir dire/summary contempt hearing[2], supports Appellant's assertion that his actions did not "significantly obstruct the administration of justice." Id.

In addressing potential jurors during voir dire, the following exchange occurred:

THE COURT: All right. Thank you. I'm also going to present defense counsel. He will introduce himself to you. It's Mr. Corrigan. And then he will introduce his client to you.
MR. CORRIGAN: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Vincent Corrigan, and I represent [Appellant].
APPELLANT: Good afternoon. Good morning. My name is Robert Thompson, the defendant, myself, for a case in which I'm innocent.
THE COURT: Please sit down. Sir, please sit down. You're to introduce yourself and nothing further.
APPELLANT: I did.

N.T., 4/2/13, at 13-14.

The trial court then continued to address the jurors, after which the following ensued:

THE COURT: Hold on one second. I got to talk to [Appellant]. How dare you make speeches when I presented ...

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