The Law Office of Kurt H King

May 21, 2010

Criminal Contempt of Court in Missouri

Filed under: Divorce,Family Law,Litigation,Uncategorized — kurthking @ 5:52 pm
Tags: ,

Recently, a Missouri jury found a lawyer guilty of criminal contempt of court, for which he was sentenced to 120 days in jail. The lawyer then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus before the Missouri Supreme Court. That court ultimately agreed with the attorney and discharged him from his imprisonment.

That case styled “In re: Carl Smith v. Sheriff Raymond Pace and the Honorable Gary Witt, case SC90425, was decided in opinion issued May 11, 2010.

After reviewing the ancient and confusing history of criminal contempt charges in the State of Missouri, and relevant United States Supreme Court cases, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the jury instructions failed to include necessary fundamental findings as to whether attorney Smith intentionally or recklessly made false statements in a petition filed in a case against the attorney’s client before a Judge Carter.

In criminal contempt trial of attorney Smith before Platte County’s Judge Gary Witt, said to be the first criminal contempt jury trial on record in the State of Missouri, Judge Carter testified but no evidence was presented and no finding made by the jury as whether the strong words by attorney Smith were false or made with reckless disregard for whether the statements were true or false. As the Missouri Supreme Court holds that such a finding is a essential element of criminal contempt, the Supreme Court found in favor of attorney Smith and discharged him from his imprisonment in the Ozark County jail of respondent Sheriff Raymond Pace.

(Respondent Gary Witt conducted the trial in which the jury found attorney Smith guilty based upon the faulty jury instructions submitted by the prosecuting attorney.)

Aside from listing the necessary elements of a criminal contempt case, this opinion by the Missouri Supreme Court’s opinion in this case is important because it emphasizes that in order to constitute criminal contempt the lawyer’s indirect words or actions (i.e., words or acts that take place outside the presence of the judge/court criticized) must have a substantial likelihood of prejudicing the judicial proceeding at stake. In attorney Smith’s case, the Supreme Court found that the strong words criticizing Judge Craig Carter of Douglas County, Missouri, did NOT interfere with or pose an IMMINENT threat of interfering with the administration of justice. In fact, the State stipulated at the criminal contempt trial of attorney Smith before Judge Witt that the strong words did not interfere with or cause Judge Carter to act any differently that he otherwise would have.

What remains to be seen is whether this victory in the end will enhance attorney Smith’s stature in the eyes of the public, or make any difference at all. Surely, it may not endear him to judges before whom he practices.

Kurt H. King
Law Office of Kurt H. King
816.781.6000
20 E. Franklin
Liberty, Clay County, Missouri 64068
http://www.kurthking.com

Bankruptcy, Child Custody and Support, Divorce and Modification, Family Law
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1 Comment »

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