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In re Dixon

July 15, 2004

IN RE JAMES DIXON, JR., APPELLANT


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. (IF-1805-99). (Hon. Lee F. Satterfield, Trial Judge).

Before Terry, Farrell, and Ruiz, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge

Argued October 22, 2002

Appellant was convicted, after an evidentiary hearing, of one count of criminal contempt. On appeal he contests the sufficiency of the evidence against him and argues that certain hearsay evidence was erroneously admitted. He also maintains that the trial court did not properly exercise its discretion in finding him guilty of only one count. We reject all of these arguments and affirm appellant's conviction.

I.

On July 23, 1999, the Superior Court issued a civil protection order ("CPO") against appellant which barred him from all contact with Ms. Malvena West for a period of twelve months. Appellant and Ms. West had known each other for about a year and a half and were the parents of a young daughter. The CPO was issued in response to actual and continuing threats of violence against Ms. West, her family, and their infant child. It required appellant not to have any contact with Ms. West and specifically prohibited telephone contact. Appellant was personally served in open court with a copy of the CPO on July 23, the day it was issued.

Barely ten days later, on August 2, Ms. West filed a motion to hold appellant in criminal contempt after he telephoned her in violation of the CPO. In her motion, Ms. West alleged that appellant called her on July 25 and again on July 31, and that on each occasion she hung up the phone after she realized who was calling. Later, on September 15, Ms. West filed an amended motion for contempt in which she stated that appellant called her sixteen times on eight different days between August 23 and September 1.

At the hearing on the contempt motion, Ms. West testified about the unwelcome telephone calls from appellant. She stated -- over objection -- that during two of those calls she told appellant he should not call her any more because such calls were in violation of the CPO. In total, she recalled having received calls from appellant eighteen times after the CPO was issued, although on a few occasions she had to have her memory refreshed in order to remember the exact dates of the calls.

Ms. West was the only witness. After she testified and various documents (including telephone company records reflecting some of the calls) were admitted into evidence, defense counsel unsuccessfully moved for a judgment of acquittal. Appellant did not take the stand and presented no evidence.

Despite counsel's attempts in closing argument to persuade the court that appellant never understood the terms of the CPO, the court found him guilty of "the offense of criminal contempt." The court based its finding on undisputed evidence that appellant "willfully violated the [CPO]" by calling Ms. West on several occasions. Furthermore, given that appellant had been personally served with a copy of the CPO, the court found that appellant knew it was a violation to call Ms. West, noting that Ms. West specifically told him not to call her because it was a violation.

Finally, the court stated that it was "only considering, for purposes of this hearing, one contempt violation." After noting appellant's "extensive criminal history," the court sentenced him to six months in jail.

II.

Historically, trial judges have had the power to punish individuals for contempt of court in order to maintain an orderly system of justice. See Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194, 202-206 (1968); Ex Parte Terry, 128 U.S. 289, 303 (1888). This power has been held to be " 'inherent in the nature and constitution of a court' . . ...


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