Florida Supreme Court Rules on Drunk Juror
We all know it is illegal to drink and drive, but what about being a juror while intoxicated? This is not an official criminal violation, but one court in Florida took affront at the conduct of a juror who was reportedly inebriated while on the job.
It was no laughing matter for the man involved, as his case went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. This case involved the seldom used, but powerful tool of direct criminal contempt of the court. When it comes to keeping order and discipline in a courthouse, judges have unique and nearly unchecked power over those who enter and those who refuse to enter.
This power should be respected and understood by all those going to court for whatever reason. As this man learned, acting out of turn or disobeying a court order can have trying circumstances and lead to a world of problems.
What Happened in This Case
According to the High Court’s opinion, in 2013, a man in Leon County reported to the county courthouse to fulfill his duty as a juror. The panel of jurors were seated reported in the morning, and were seated by early afternoon. At that point, the attorneys for the case at hand began asking questions of the jurors about their qualifications to serve.
In response to several of the questions that are normal during any juror selection process, the man in question told the judge he was not qualified to serve on the jury. His reasons? He was anti-war, anti-government, and a drunk, in addition to needing the time off to work and not lose money. The judge did not accept the reasons, and the man had to sit as a juror.
Sometime after jury selection began, jurors complained about the man, his odor, and that it was difficult to wake him up. According to the majority opinion, he smelled of alcohol. The court ordered a breathalyzer test done, and the results came back at .0111. The judge did not take this behavior kindly, and held a contempt of court hearing against the man.
This means that on its own initiative, the court was charging the man with direct contempt of court for his behavior while at court. As you can imagine, once the court itself decides to charge someone with contempt, it would be difficult to get out of the charges because the court itself is in charge of passing judgment and sentence. In this case the court found the man in direct contempt of court, sentencing him to 30 days in jail.
Man Wins Appeal
The man appealed the court’s charge, ruling, and sentence and his case went all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. There, the High Court ruled that the man was not entitled to counsel while being charged, but that because not all the behavior he was punished for took place in court, the charges had to be dismissed. It is a good case for several lessons, including that a person should watch was he does and says in court.
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