Courthouses, Crime, Reader Polls, Rudeness

Punk Defendant Potpourri: Punching and Cursing in Court Will Get You Held in Contempt

If you can’t laugh at these defendants, then you can’t be a defense attorney. Or a prosecutor, most likely. You could be a judge, though — a judge with no sense of humor.

We’ve got a couple of stories today about defendants behaving very badly in court. Hilariously badly. “I could have walked out of this courtroom, but now I’m going to jail for contempt,” badly.

Looking at these two stories together will allow us to analyze one important question about courthouse etiquette: is it worse to flip off a judge, or to physically assault an attorney?

Our first defendant comes to us from the great state of Ohio. Defendant Dionte Lummus is on trial for murder, and tried to show the court his peaceable, harmless nature by punching his defense attorney in the face. The Cincinnati Enquirer has the story:

Lummus, though, was upset with his attorney, Will Oswall, and told the judge he wanted to fire Oswall. In a Monday hearing, before the jury was brought into court, Oswall told the judge he didn’t think it was fair to his client if he were removed from the case in the middle of the trial.

That’s when, Oswall said, Lummus punched him in the face. “I kind of saw it coming, so I stepped back,” Oswall said later, adding the glancing punch hit him in the cheek, near his nose.

Lummus then tried to run. I’m serious, dude punched his attorney then made a break for it like he was in some kind of action movie. Lummus was quickly tackled and brought back to the bar. The judge then roughed Lummus up a little bit:

When caught, Lummus went again before the judge, who cited Lummus for contempt and assaulting an officer of the court – the defense attorney – and sentenced him to six months in jail to be served before he serves any possible prison time. Deputies also charged Lummus with escape.

Undeterred, attorney Oswall (shown at right, smiling like a boss) continues to represent Lummus. When Lummus was brought back into the courtroom in chains, Oswall asked the judge to instruct the jury not to hold the shackles against his client.

UPDATE (5:53 PM): Just to close the loop on Will Oswall, who will now almost certainly be my attorney if I am ever charged with anything in Ohio, he continued to represent Lummus — and the jury returned a not guilty verdict on the attempted murder charge. Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman still sentenced Lummus to 34 years on robbery and assault, but Oswall got him off of the most serious charge.

Okay, so punching out defense counsel gets a defendant six months. How much do you think a punk teen should get for flipping a judge the bird?

According to Miami Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat, flipping him the bird gets you 30 days in the pokey. The news came as a shock to an area teen, Penelope Soto. The 18-year-old Soto was in Rodriguez-Chomat’s courtroom on charges of illegal Xanax possession. After the judge set her bail, Soto tried to get cute with the judge and said “Adios” and tried to strut away. Rodriguez-Chomat called her back, doubled her bail, and then said “Adios.”

Judge 1 — Punk Teen 0.

Soto didn’t like the authority, I guess, because then she threw up her middle finger and told the judge “f**k you” and strutted off again. Rodriguez-Chomat called her back, again, and had this exchange, according to the Huffington Post:

“Did you say, fuck me?” asked Rodriguez-Chomat.

“Yes sir, I did,” Soto responded.

The judge then remanded her to 30 days in jail for contempt of court, in addition to the original charge of possession of a controlled substance without a prescription.

Judge 2 — Punk Teen’s Parents 0.

The HuffPost has the video which we’ve embedded below. It’s worth watching just to see Soto go from giggling little girl to shocked teen to “I’m going to wiggle my head so much it might fall off.”

Okay, so which was worse? Punching your defense attorney, or cursing the judge? I know violence is never the answer, but in the grand scheme of alleged murder, I can’t say that trying to fight your way into a daring courthouse escape is behavior that is far beyond the pale.

But this giggling, finger-flipping, head-bobbing kid needs to be taught a lesson. Her contempt sentence should be more harsh (relative to her alleged crime) because this casual disrespect of authority is what ultimately leads to punching people out in open court.

Of course, the last time somebody punched me I probably deserved it. What do you think? Take our poll below.

Who should get the stiffer penalty relative to the alleged seriousness of their crimes?

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Defendant punches his own attorney [Cincinnati Enquirer]
Penelope Soto, Miami Teen, Flips Off Judge And Gets A Month In Jail [Huffington Post]

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