Eaton v. City of Tulsa
415 U.S. 697 (1974)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Eaton v. City of Tulsa, 415 U.S. 697 (1974)

Eaton v. City of Tulsa

No. 73-5925

Decided March 25, 1974

415 U.S. 697

Syllabus

Petitioner was convicted of criminal contempt for referring to his alleged assailant as "chicken shit" in answering a question on cross-examination at his trial for violating a Tulsa, Oklahoma, ordinance. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, rejecting petitioner's contention that the conviction must be taken as resting solely on the use of the explective, and holding that, since the record showed that petitioner, in addition to using the explective, made "discourteous responses" to the trial judge, there was sufficient evidence upon which the trial court could find petitioner in direct contempt.

Held:

1. The single isolated usage of street vernacular, not directed at the judge or any officer of the court, cannot constitutionally support the contempt conviction, since, under the circumstances, it did not "constitute an imminent . . . threat to the administration of justice." Craig v. Harney,331 U. S. 367, 331 U. S. 376.

2. Where the trial court's judgment and sentence disclosed that the conviction rested on the use of the explective only, the Court of Criminal Appeals, in relying on petitioner's additional "discourteous responses," denied petitioner constitutional due process in sustaining the trial court by treating the conviction as one upon a charge not made.

Certiorari granted; reversed and remanded.

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