OF JUDGMENT: 11/19/2015
COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT HON. JEFF WEILL, SR. TRIAL JUDGE.
COURT ATTORNEYS: GREG RICHARD SPORE MICHELE PURVIS HARRIS
MERRIDA COXWELL ROBERT SHULER SMITH JACK BRADLEY McCULLOUCH
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY:
JOSEPH SCOTT HEMLEBEN
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: DAVID NEIL McCARTY MERRIDA COXWELL
DISTRICT ATTORNEY: ROBERT SHULER SMITH
WALLER, C.J., KITCHENS AND BEAM, JJ.
Adofo Minka was held in direct criminal contempt by Hinds
County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Weill Sr. for unprofessional
and contumacious behavior during the trial of his client
which resulted in a mistrial. Minka was fined $100 and
ordered to pay the costs of the jury in the amount of $1,
350. Minka appeals to this Court, claiming (1) he did not
improperly comment during opening statements on a potential
sentence his client might receive, which triggered a sua
sponte objection from the trial court and was a key basis for
the State's request(s) for a mistrial; (2) Minka's
comments do not warrant criminal sanction because counsel
have broad latitude during opening statements and closing
arguments; (3) the record does not support a finding beyond a
reasonable doubt that any of Minka's comments or conduct
constitute criminal contempt; and (4) even if this Court
affirms the trial court's contempt and sanction order,
the monetary fine was $650 more than it should have been;
therefore, the sanction amount must be reversed, lowered, and
We find no merit in any of the points of contention argued by
Minka on appeal. The record before this Court proves Minka is
guilty of criminal contempt beyond a reasonable doubt. And
the trial court had the authority to issue a monetary fine
and costs in the amounts imposed. Therefore, we affirm the
trial court's contempt and sanctions order.
On November 18, 2015, Minka appeared before Hinds County
Circuit Court for the criminal trial of his client William
Wilson, charged with the crime of felon in possession of a
firearm. After the State concluded its opening statement,
Minka began his opening statement, saying:
I've sat through just listening to the State's
opening statement. I've sat over at the defense counsel
table and I've talked to my client. And as I sat over
there, I've been trying to take care of my fear. Fear is
such a harrowing emotion. It grabs you, it takes hold of you;
it can control you.
At that point, the trial court interjected and asked defense
counsel and counsel for the State to approach the bench.
Citing Rule 3.02 of the Uniform Rules of Circuit and County
Court Practice (URCCC), the trial court told Minka that his
argument was "not appropriate argument[; t]he purpose of
opening statement is to lay out what you believe the evidence
will show." The court said, "I don't know where
this is headed, but it doesn't sound like it's headed
toward the evidence." Minka responded, "It's
headed there Judge. . . . I'm going to move quickly
through this, Judge. I'm not going to take time. I
understand what you're saying." The court replied,
"All right. Well it's not just a question of time.
This is not an emotional appeal, this is a laying out of the
evidence. And so I'm just telling you, you need to not
only move along, but move into what you expect the evidence
Minka resumed his opening statement:
Sorry ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm just trying
to have a conversation with you. You've heard the
prosecution's story of this case. But fortunately ladies
and gentlemen of the jury, there's two sides to every
story. The prosecution wants you to merely believe that this
is a case about somebody who is convicted of a felony and
they were in possession of some firearm. According to what
the prosecution is saying the evidence will show, my client .
. . over there, should already be on the bus to Parchman
Penitentiary. Simple enough: right? Wrong.
The trial court again interjected and asked counsel for both
parties to approach the bench. The court instructed Minka not
to go into what potential sentence the defendant might face.
A back-and-forth ensued between Minka and the trial court,
with Minka denying he had commented on any potential sentence
his client faced. The trial court said its ruling had been
made and told Minka to finish his opening statement.
After the bench conference concluded, Minka said aloud in
front of the jury, "I want the record to reflect that I
never . . . made any statements . . . about . . . ." The
trial court told counsel to approach the bench.
The court warned Minka that if he interrupted the court again
and continued to talk after being instructed by the court not
to, there would be serious consequences. The court then
instructed Minka to finish his opening statement.
Minka continued his opening statement, saying:
This is not what that case is about ladies and gentlemen. The
case theory, that's not what it's about. This case is
about unrestrained and unchecked power. It is about the power
of the vice and narcotics task force and bout [sic] the power
of the district attorney's office represented by Mr.
Smith and Mr. Muccllouch [sic] sitting over here. It is about
how power only cares about taking care of itself. It's
about power betraying our trust. During the course of this
trial you're going to hear from men who represent the
powerful entities . . . .
The State requested a bench conference and objected to
Minka's statement on the ground it was improper. The
trial court asked Minka to explain why his statement was not
improper. Minka responded:
Because I said they [will] hear from the people coming up
here, what the evidence [will] show. You want me to say what
the evidence [will] show? Would that make the Court feel more
The trial court sustained the State's objection, and
instructed Minka to proceed. Continuing with his opening
statement, Minka said to the jury:
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I'm just interested in
the truth. I'm just trying to tell you what the evidence
in this case is going to show. During the course of this
trial, you're going to hear from detectives who give
voice to the power of the Narcotics and Vice Task Force of
the Jackson Police Department. During the course of this
trial, you're going to hear about how the Vice and
Narcotics Task Force of the Jackson Police Department
betrayed our trust. They betrayed our trust by hunting and
surveilling [my client] over there until they had a grand -
until they believed that they had a grand opportunity to
ensnare him. You're going to hear about how the vice and
narcotics task force betrayed our trust when they relied on
the unreliable evidence of a snitch. Then the prosecutor,
they have betrayed our trust -
The State objected, and the trial court sustained the
objection. Minka then asked if they could approach the bench.
The trial court excused the jury, and a lengthy bench
The State argued that Minka was attempting to bias the jury
or appeal to their sympathy, which was inappropriate. The
State also argued that Minka had opened the door for the
State to introduce otherwise inadmissible drug evidence into
the case. Minka responded that he had no objection to any
such evidence being introduced by the State, and he planned
to talk to the jury about that during his opening statement.
The trial court first queried Minka about the dispensation
pertaining to the drug evidence. Afterward, the trial court
addressed the State's objection regarding Minka's
other remarks, which the record provides as follows:
THE COURT: All right. Now as far as the rest of the objection
of the State, I do find that it's an improper objection
-- I mean it's an improper argument. Your argument is at
full throttle. It talks about fearing the powerful, and
it's a completely inappropriate opening statement. You
need to simply lay out what you believe the evidence will
show without reference to -- hyperbole, there may be a place
for that in closing argument, I'm not foreclosing that.
But when you when you [sic] say that the prosecutors sitting
at this table have betrayed trust, that's way out of
bounds, even for closing argument. So I'm going to
sustain the objection. And I'm going to caution you to
lay it out in a professional and calm manner, what you expect
the evidence to show. You've got an opportunity to do it.
And if you can't refrain from that, you're not going
to go further with your opening statement. Are we clear on
MR. MINKA: I don't understand what I've done wrong.
THE COURT: I'm sorry?
MR. MINKA: I do not understand what I have done wrong, Judge.
I do not understand what is improper. I do not understand
what is wrong with saying that - what is wrong with the
truth. I don't understand that, Judge. If the DA's
office is not powerful then I won't say it. But they are
powerful. They're powerful enough to have this man
sitting over here today on charges.
THE COURT: There's a way to do it right and there's a
way not to do [sic]. And you're not doing it right.
MR. MINKA: Can you instruct me -
THE COURT: Excuse me. It's really important that you not
interrupt me Mr. Minka. That's really important. If you
do it again I'm going to find you in contempt. Now the
way opening statement works, and has in every trial I've
ever had in my courtroom - - many of which [your co-counsel]
has participated in, you have not yet - - you lay out in a
calm professional way what you expect the evidence to show;
and without going into an emotional appeal to the biases that
the jury may hold. To appeal to any sense of fear that they
may have of the powerful and so forth, is just not an
appropriate opening statement. I don't know how further
to explain it to you -
. . .
MR. MINKA: My tone is inappropriate, ...