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In Re Watts

OPINION FILED DECEMBER 13, 1978.

IN RE SUE WATTS. — (THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

SUE WATTS, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.)



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Stephenson County; the Hon. DEXTER A. KNOWLTON, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE GUILD DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant appeals from an order finding her in direct contempt of court and sentencing her to 3 days in the Stephenson County jail, which she served.

On August 15, 1977, defendant appeared in the spectator section of Courtroom No. 2 in Stephenson County, Illinois wearing a T-shirt on which were printed the words "Bitch, Bitch" in letters at least 5 inches high. *fn1 The trial court ordered defendant to the bar where the following proceedings took place:

"THE COURT: * * * Let the record further show that at the time the Judge was on the bench, Sue Watts, aged nineteen years of age, appeared in this courtroom wearing an obscene T-shirt with a vulgarity printed thereon. She appeared in this Court and impenged [sic] the dignity of the Court.

Miss Watts, this is a Court of Law. We conduct these things with dignity. I wear a robe. That is the dignity of the Court. When you come in here with a T-shirt on that says, `Bitch, Bitch' on it, then that impenges [sic] the dignity of the Court.

MISS WATTS: (Inaudible response.)

THE COURT: Now, Miss Watts, where did you get that coat?

MISS WATTS: (Inaudible response.)

THE COURT: What made you think you could come in here wearing that?

MISS WATTS: I completely forgot about it.

THE COURT: You're not very lady-like wearing that on the street, I don't think. As I say, it is a vulgarity. It borders on obscenity, and it impenges [sic] on the dignity of the Court when you come in here. I'm holding you in contempt of Court, and you are sentenced to three days in the County Jail. * * *"

Defendant raises five issues on appeal. In view of our opinion herein we will consider only the first three of these issues: (1) that summary contempt sanctions cannot be imposed where there is no actual disruption of the court; (2) that criminal sanctions are impermissible where there is no warning that specific conduct may result in criminal penalties; (3) that there is no evidence that defendant intended to violate a rule of court or to act contumaciously; (4) that defendant's first amendment right to freedom of speech was violated by this finding of contempt; and (5) that she was denied her fourteenth amendment right to procedural due process, particularly her right to allocution.

• 1 We consider defendant's first three contentions together as disruption, warning and intent are all intertwined with the basic nature of a charge of contempt. Although summary criminal contempt is a crime in the ordinary sense, being a violation of the law punishable by fine or imprisonment or both (see Bloom v. Illinois (1968), 391 U.S. 194, 20 L.Ed.2d 522, 88 S.Ct. 1477), it is unique in that it allows the trial court to partially define the crime itself as well as to judge innocence or guilt.

Although some case law has evolved with regard to the contempt power and appropriate courtroom attire (see Annot., 73 A.L.R. 3d 353 (1976)), there have been very few decisions concerning the attire of courtroom spectators, as opposed to attorneys or parties. Because of this is is understandably difficult for ...


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