Illinois v. Allen
397 U.S. 337 (1970)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337 (1970)

Illinois v. Allen

No. 606

Argued February 24, 1970

Decided March 31, 1970

397 U.S. 337

Syllabus

Respondent, who was on trial for robbery, was removed from the courtroom for repeated disruptive behavior and the use of vile and abusive language directed at the trial judge, notwithstanding the judge's prior warning that removal would follow another outburst. Appointed counsel represented respondent during the period respondent was not allowed in the courtroom, principally the presentation of the State's case. Having given some assurances of good conduct, respondent was allowed to return to the courtroom while appointed counsel presented his defense. Respondent was convicted. Following the State Supreme Court's affirmance, respondent filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, contending that he had been deprived of his right under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to confront the witnesses against him. The District Court declined to issue the writ. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to attend his own trial was so "absolute" that, regardless of how unruly his conduct, he could never be held to have lost that right so long as he insisted on it, as respondent had.

Held:

1. A defendant can lose his right to be present at trial if, following the judge's warning that he will be removed if his disruptive behavior continues, he nevertheless insists on conducting himself in such a disruptive manner that his trial cannot proceed if he remains in the courtroom. He can reclaim the right to be present as soon as he is willing to comport himself with decorum and respect. Pp. 397 U. S. 342-343.

2. A trial judge confronted by a defendant's disruptive conduct can exercise discretion to meet the circumstances of the case, and though no single formula is best for all situations, there are at least three constitutionally permissible approaches for the court's handling of an obstreperous defendant: (1) bind and gag him as a last resort, thereby keeping him present; (2) cite him for criminal or civil contempt; or (3) remove him from the courtroom, while the trial continues, until he promises to conduct himself properly. Pp. 397 U. S. 343-346.

Page 397 U. S. 338

3. On the facts of this case, the trial judge did not abuse his discretion, respondent, through his disruptive behavior, having lost his right to confrontation under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 397 U. S. 345-347.

413 F.2d 232, reversed.

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