Law School Case Brief
United States v. Moncier - 571 F.3d 593 (6th Cir. 2009)
The elements of criminal contempt are: (1) that a defendant engaged in misbehavior, (2) that the misbehavior obstructed the administration of justice, (3) that the misbehavior occurred in the presence of the court, and (4) that the defendant acted with intent to obstruct.
Defendant Herbert Moncier, an attorney, represented three potential defendants in connection with a federal drug investigation in Tennessee. On March 17, 2006, Judge Ronnie Greer conducted a hearing on the question whether Moncier’s representation of the potential defendants presented a conflict of interest for him. During the hearing, Moncier accused the government of “scurrilous” behavior, accused Judge Greer and the assigned magistrate judge of bias, and talked over Judge Greer. Moncier again misbehaved during his client’s hearing. He was thereafter charged with two counts of criminal contempt, and was convicted by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Greeneville, presided over by Judge Greer. On appeal, Moncier argued that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support his conviction
Should the Moncier’s conviction be sustained under the circumstances of the case at hand?
The appellate court vacated Moncier's conviction and remanded the matter for a new trial before a different judge. The court found that Moncier indisputably misbehaved at the sentencing hearing, and that misbehavior obstructed the district court's efforts not only to proceed generally with his client's sentencing, but also specifically to ask the client whether he wished to retain Moncier as counsel. There was no doubt that Moncier's obstruction was intentional because he essentially admitted as much. The record supported Moncier's conviction. However, Moncier was entitled to a new trial before a different district court judge because Moncier's conduct involved disrespect towards the judge within the meaning of Fed. R. Crim. P. 42(a)(3).
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