Published on: Friday, January 7, 2022

North Carolina single mother of two leaving the courtroom after attending her boyfriend's plea hearing exclaims "piece of shit!" as she leaves the courtroom. The magistrate judge calls her to the bench, immediately holds a two-minute hearing, declares her guilty of criminal contempt, and sentences her to ten days in jail, to begin immediately. She's ultimately confined for 13 days due to "an error." District court: That's fine. Fourth Circuit: Definitely not fine. Also not fine is district court making "misstatements of facts" and including information "not known to the magistrate judge at the time" of the contempt hearing. In any event, there's not a lick of evidence the woman had the criminal intent necessary for a contempt conviction. The fact that she made one outburst on her way out of the courtroom when no court proceeding was occuring suggests no intent. Conviction overturned. No remand. And please, lay off these summary hearings.

The case is In Re. Oliphant, 20-6163 (4th Cir. Jan. 4, 2022).