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Moton v. State

Court of Appeals of Georgia

May 5, 2015

MOTON
v.
THE STATE

Contempt. DeKalb State Court. Before Judge Lopez.

The McReynolds Law Firm, Jule McReynolds, Jr., for appellant.

Sherry Boston, Solicitor-General, Wystan Getz, Samantha J. Newman, Assistant Solicitors-General, for appellee.

OPINION

Page 394

Dillard, Judge.

Following a hearing, a trial court found Earl M. Moton, Sr., guilty of criminal contempt. On appeal, Moton contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. For the reasons set forth infra, we affirm.

At the outset, we note that, as with any criminal conviction, " the evidence in any criminal contempt case must show that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." [1] Indeed, criminal contempt is a crime in the ordinary sense; " it is a violation of the law, a public wrong which is punishable by fine or imprisonment or both." [2] And

Page 395

on appeal of a criminal-contempt conviction, the appropriate standard of appellate review is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, " any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." [3]

So viewed, the record shows that on April 3, 2014, Moton was at the DeKalb County courthouse to testify as a character witness for his son, Earl Moton II, who was being tried on charges that he committed an act of public indecency at a local library. Specifically, the evidence in that case showed that a library patron saw the younger Moton expose his penis and begin masturbating while he was watching the patron's ten-year-old daughter, who was sitting at a nearby desk using one of the library's computers. Immediately, the patron, her close family friend, and one of the librarians confronted the younger Moton, who admitted adjusting himself but denied any criminal intent.

Toward the end of the trial, but before the evidence was closed, the library patron, her family friend, and three of the librarians were sitting in the hallway outside of the courtroom when a visibly upset Moton began pacing back and forth while loudly exclaiming that he hoped God would make the children and grandchildren of those who lied about his son suffer in the same way his son was currently suffering. The same witnesses also heard Moton angrily refer to the [332 Ga.App. 301] patron's daughter, stating that no one " wants that" and that nobody even " knew whether it was a boy or a girl" because she was " all covered up." [4] In addition, Moton further complained that he had donated money to that branch of the library but, yet, was not called by library staff on the day of his son's alleged indiscretion.

Subsequently, the witnesses reported Moton's behavior to the State's solicitor-general, who then informed the trial court. And after hearing a brief account of Moton's statements from three of the witnesses, the trial court explained to Moton that it would hold a hearing to determine if he was guilty of criminal contempt. Later that same day, the trial court issued a rule nisi, informing Moton that he was being charged with criminal contempt for " threatening and otherwise intimidating witnesses for the State outside of the presence of the Court." In addition, the order directed Moton to appear for an evidentiary hearing to adjudicate the issue.

As noticed, on April 14, 2014, the trial court held a criminal-contempt hearing, in which the library patron, her family friend, and the three librarians testified regarding Moton's comments in the hallway outside of the courtroom on the day of his son's trial. Moton did not testify, but several witnesses--who had also testified as character witnesses for his son--claimed that he was only loudly praying outside of the courtroom. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court found that Moton's actions were a danger to the orderly administration of justice and, thus, that he was guilty of criminal contempt. This appeal follows.

In his sole enumeration of error, Moton contends that the evidence was insufficient to support his criminal-contempt conviction because he violated no statute or court order. This argument is entirely lacking in merit.

It is well established that the distinction between criminal and civil contempt is that " criminal contempt imposes unconditional punishment for prior acts of contumacy, whereas civil contempt imposes conditional punishment as a means of coercing future compliance with a prior court order." [5] Indeed, under OCGA § 15-1-4 (a) (1), a trial court can issue attachments and inflict summary punishment for contempt of court in cases of " [m]isbehavior of any person or persons in the presence of such courts or so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice." But the Supreme Court of Georgia has [332 Ga.App. 302] " stressed the importance of confining

Page 396

summary contempt orders to misconduct occurring in court." [6] And where the alleged contumacious acts are committed outside the court's presence, " the considerations justifying expedited procedures do not pertain." [7] In such situations, summary adjudication of indirect contempt is prohibited, and " due process requires that a person who is tried for indirect criminal contempt is entitled to more normal adversary procedures." [8] Thus, a defendant charged with criminal contempt must, inter alia, be " advised of charges, have a reasonable opportunity to respond to them, and be permitted the assistance of counsel and the right to call witnesses." [9]

Here, the trial court did not impose summary punishment upon Moton, but rather, informed him in open court (during his son's trial) that it would be scheduling a criminal-contempt hearing (during which he could be represented by counsel) based upon evidence that he was intimidating witnesses. Additionally, the trial court issued a rule nisi that also advised Moton of the charge against him.[10] Consequently, Moton's contention that he was not pet on notice as to why he was being charged with criminal contempt, and thus not afforded due process, is belied by the record.[11]

Moton further argues that he was nevertheless denied due process because he was not notified that he violated a specific court order or statute, implying that there can be no criminal contempt without such a violation. This argument is a nonstarter. As OCGA § 15-1-4 (a) (1) clearly contemplates, and as we have previously held, criminal contempt " involves some form of wilful disrespect toward the court; it may involve intentional disregard for or disobedience of an order or command of the court, or it may involve conduct which interferes with the court's ability to administer justice." [12] And here, at the evidentiary hearing, the State showed that prior to the close of evidence in his son's criminal trial, Moton directed loud, threatening comments toward several of the State's witnesses and, thus, engaged [332 Ga.App. 303] in behavior that " created a clear and present danger to orderly administration of justice." [13] Accordingly, the evidence was sufficient to support the trial court's finding that Moton was guilty of criminal contempt.

Judgment affirmed.

Ellington, P. J., and McFadden, J., concur.


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