Caught napping: yawn gets 6-month contempt sentence

By Lawyers Weekly|03 March 2012

A good night's sleep may now been one of the better ways to avoid a stint in the slammer, or at least that's the lesson learned by one Chicago man who is facing six months' jail for the offence…

A good night's sleep may now been one of the better ways to avoid a stint in the slammer, or at least that's the lesson learned by one Chicago man who is facing six months' jail for the offence of yawning in a courtroom.

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While in court to attend a cousin's drug charge case, Clifton Williams, 33, of Chicago suburb Richton Park, mustered a yawn that so irritated the sitting Judge Daniel Rozak, he sentenced Williams to six months' jail for contempt of court - the maximum sentence permitted for criminal contempt without a jury trial.

The nature of the yawn - intentional or just ill-timed - has cause great debate in the local community, with varying descriptions of it as "loud and boisterous" to "an involuntary action".

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Investigating the matter, the Chicago Tribune unearthed startling facts showing that over the past decade, Rozak has jailed people for contempt of court at a far higher rate than anyone else in the county - bring more than a third of all contempt charges among the county's 30 judges. Offences ranged from resisting sitting in an allocated seat, talking in a "very loud" voice, to referring to Rozak as "boss".

Williams, who was locked up on July 23, may be freed if Judge Rozak accepts an apology Williams may give for his actions, although by the time the hearing rolls along, Williams will have already served 21 days in the county's lockup - plenty of time for a long nap, one would hope.

Folklaw ponders whether tired legal counsel should now be legitimately excused from duties when under threat of incriminating themselves in the courtroom - with siestas instituted as part of their firm's OH&S strategy. Or would that be the stuff dreams are made of?

Caught napping: yawn gets 6-month contempt sentence
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