Hypothetical legal question: Assaulting the judge during trial

Getting the formalities out of the way first, and to cover legal Dopers:
I am not a defendant in any criminal, civil, or administrative procedure. This is not a solicitation for legal advice, and any responses to this post are acknowledged as not creating a representative relationship. This thread is not related to any current matters taking place in any court, nor to any potential proceedings of any type.

There. Now suppose we have a person on trial. He’s been properly indicted and all the pre-trial stuff is out of the way. During the trial, in open court, in front of the jury, he jumps up from his seat and attacks the judge. What happens now?

Is it a mistrial? Is the jury dismissed and a new jury empaneled? Is the defendant charged with additional assault charges, or is this automatically contempt of court? What changes if the assault take place during the guilt phase or after it?

Thanks for scratching an intellectual itch.

I have no legal knowledge of relevance to share, just thought that it sounded like contempt of court on the face of it. :wink:


If he assaults anyone in the perveiw of the court, a mistrial is almost always given. Of course if he does it after the verdict and sentencing, thr questions is moot. :smiley:

OK, so a mistrial is declared (or whatever the correct term is). Is the assault charge added to the original charges at the retrial, is there a separate trial for the assault, or is there some automatic criminal contempt? Another way of phrasing it: does the defendant go directly to Jail, do not pass Go, do not collect $200?

Assaulting the judge would almost certainly be grounds for a mistrial. It would be highly prejudicial to the defendant, and have nothing to do with the issue at trial. Of course, it would be a mistrial at the defendant’s request, so there would be no double jeopardy issues surrounding a retrial.

A defendant who seeks to delay any finding of guilt by repeatedly attacking the judges at his trials will find himself shackled in short order.

In addition, the act is both criminal contempt of court and assault, and is punishable either way.

I think a lot hinges on whether the judge beats him into submission or the bailiff shoots him. :slight_smile:

The contempt can be punished directly and summarily by the judge. The assault charge would require a separate trial, and it would not be joined to the retrial.

Manson didn’t get a mistrial for attacking the judge at his trial. Unfortunately I can’t put my hand to my copy of Helter Skelter at the moment, so can’t provide details. Anybody else got it handy?

I opened this thread thinking of Helter Skelter. I don’t recall the details from the book, but in the old movie version Manson leaps at the judge but is restrained before he gets to him. In voice-over Bugliosi explains that one of the defense counsel inquires about the judge’s state of mind. Cut to the judge, who says “if he’d taken one more step I’d have done something to defend myself.” VO Bugliosi who explains that defense counsel explains that he feels bound to ask for a mistrial. Cut to the judge who says something like “the defendant will not profit from his own misdeeds. The trial will continue.”

Of course it’s an isolated case and the answers of those who deal with trials on a regular basis are correct.

I don’t know what would happen from a legal perspective, but I can tell you what would happen the instant a defendant made a move to attack the judge:

Both the judge and the bailiff have a button that when pressed sends an 8 second long shock to a belt the defendant wears under his/her clothes. From the bailiff’s explanation that I got to hear, the shock is not unlike what one experiences from a Taser.

My students and I were in the Vista courthouse for a unit on government and courts, and they had the opportunity to conduct their own trial with the court’s judge, bailiff, and clerk on hand. It was pretty damn cool. I did have to explain to the kids that an eight second shock with the voltage of a Tazer would leave the defendent a drooling wreck on the floor, having most likely wet and messed him/herself.

Now, as to whether all criminal defendents have to wear such a belt, I couldn’t tell you. I got the feeling from the way the bailiff described it that it was all criminal defendents. Mileage may vary from courthouse to courthouse and state to state.

Stun belts are in somewhat variable use, from what I can tell. There was a controversy in 1998 when a LA County defendant (Ronnie Hawkins) was shocked for interrupting the judge at a “three strikes” hearing. At that time, deputies had been using them for two years, but Hawkins was the first one shocked. LA County evidently used them on “some defendants–who are escape risks or who have a history of violent behavior in custody”

After that incident, the federal courts banned the use of stun belts in LA County, but last year the 9th Circuit overturned that injuction, saying that the use in Hawkins’ case was unconstitutional, but that the belt could be used as a security device.

In a 1999 report, Amnesty International found 130 jurisdictions using the belts, and said the popularity was rising.

Didn’t this actually happen quite recently? IIRC a man made to attack the judge but stopped when the judge pulled a gun.

It all depends on the judge. In most cases, with the defendant’s egregious actions, the judge may declare a mistrial. However, in some case, the defendant has to live with his actions. Most of those involve cases where it appears the defendant is, in fact, trying to provoke a mistrial. For example:

Gordon v. State - no mistrial where the defendant threw a water picture at his wife who had just finished testifying against him.

State v. Olinghouse - no mistrial where the defendant pushed his counsel against the bench and called him a son of a bitch in front of the jury.

People v. White - no mistrial where the defendant fled from the courtroom in front of the jury.

and, my favorite:

Babbs v. State - no mistrial where the defendant pointed a finger menancingly at a juror and saying “If I ever see your black ass again .-.-.”

There are more examples of defendant’s throwing chairs at prosecutors, defendant’s dropping their pants in front of the expert witness, etc. for which the judge did not err in not granting the motion for mistrial.