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Routh v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi

April 27, 2017

CHRISTOPHER SCOTT ROUTH
v.
STATE OF MISSISIPPI

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 04/13/2016

         HINDS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. JEFF WEILL, SR.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: DAVID NEIL McCARTY MERRIDA COXWELL

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: JOSEPH SCOTT HEMLEBEN

          BEFORE WALLER, C.J., KING AND MAXWELL, JJ.

          MAXWELL, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Criminal contempt "involves an act 'which tends to bring the court into disrepute or disrespect.'"[1] In this case, Christopher Scott Routh was found in direct criminal contempt after he disrespected the court-specifically by standing up to dispute a judge's bond ruling after the bond hearing had been concluded and despite being directed by the judge to sit down and make any further argument by written motion. Because the record supports the criminal-contempt finding beyond a reasonable doubt, we affirm.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         ¶2. On April 23, 2016, Christopher Routh represented Loren Shell-Blackwell (Blackwell) at her arraignment hearing. Routh is an attorney with the Hinds County Public Defender's Office. Blackwell had been indicted for capital murder.

         ¶3. Prior to the hearing, Blackwell had been out on bond, under house arrest. Routh requested Blackwell remain on bond and under house arrest. Routh argued his client had a constitutional right to reasonable bail. He also asserted the State had no evidence linking her to the crime.

         ¶4. The State responded that its policy is to request bond be denied to those charged with capital murder, and Blackwell should be no exception. The State argued, contrary to Routh's no-evidence claim, that Blackwell's DNA had been found at the murder scene, plus she had given incriminating statements to the police. Moreover, Blackwell posed a flight risk, having no ties to Hinds County. The State also pointed out that the only reason Blackwell had been granted bond previously was because she was pregnant. And now that her child was born, there was no longer any reason she remain out of jail.

         ¶5. At this point, the circuit judge asked Routh about Blackwell's infant, whom she had brought with her to the hearing. Routh responded that the baby had a certain digestive condition that required his mother breast-feed him. The judge asked what evidence Routh had to support this contention. At first, Routh equivocated, saying he was not familiar with the exact condition but that was what his client told him. But then Routh began talking about a hospital discharge form. When asked if he wanted to introduce the form into evidence, Routh said yes. But before offering it, the judge permitted the State to review the form. The State pointed out that the document was a general discharge form from the hospital. It merely directed the baby be regularly fed breast milk or formula. After reviewing the record himself, the judge agreed the document contained no diagnosis of a gastrointestinal issue and no prescription for breast milk only. Because the form Routh presented stated the infant could be fed formula instead of breast milk, the judge found no compelling reason to grant bond on this basis.

         ¶6. The judge then announced his decision-

I'm going to deny bond. It's a capital murder charge. Another purpose of bond is to protect the public. Capital murder is an extremely serious charge which can carry the death penalty, and the DNA evidence cited by the State, along with the other summary of the evidence ...

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