A Florida man who showed up drunk for jury selection shouldn’t have been sent to jail for it, the state’s supreme court ruled Thursday.
The Florida Supreme Court found that Noel Plank of Tallahassee should not have been found guilty of direct criminal contempt by a judge in Leon County Court because some of his questionable conduct happened outside of the court and not in direct view of the judge.
The court has ordered that Florida’s First District Court of Appeals issue an order vacating the decision. However, the state could investigate whether to retry Plank for indirect criminal contempt.
Colleen Dierdre Mullen, an assistant public defender in Tallahassee who represented Plank, said she was pleased about the decision.
On April 15, 2013, Plank showed up for jury duty at the Leon County Courthouse. He told a judge during general questioning that he had various issues that would make it difficult to serve on a jury, including admitting that he was a drunk.
The judge did not excuse Plank and selection continued. Plank later fell asleep as other prospective jurors complained he smelled of alcohol and it was hard to wake him up. A breath test administered outside the presence of the judge showed a blood alcohol content of 0.111 percent.
A judge convicted Plank of direct criminal contempt for disrupting jury selection and distracting other jurors as the result of being drunk. He was sentenced him to 30 days in jail and eventually released after 17 days. The First District Court of Appeals upheld the decision before it was argued before the Supreme Court in October of 2014.
Attorneys for Plank argued that the court erred in not providing Plank with counsel before sentencing him with direct criminal contempt. The Supreme Court said in its 42-page decision there’s no such a requirement in either the federal or state constitutions.
An effort to reach Plank for comment was unsuccessful.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.