An Ohio judge became so frustrated with a defendant speaking in court that he ordered police to keep him quiet — by ripping off a piece of red tape and putting it over his mouth in Cuyahoga County, Ohio., Tuesday.
The defendant, 32-year-old Franklyn Williams, was accused of robbery, Cleveland.com reported. He had previously pleaded guilty, but demanded a new trial after saying his lawyer hadn’t fully explained what he was pleading guilty to, according to the site
During his trial, he allegedly cut off his ankle bracelet and slipped away to Nebraska before being rearrested, the site reported.
Video shot and edited by Fox 8 shows Williams speaking in court while Judge John Russo repeatedly scolds him for talking and tells him to be quiet.
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In the video, Williams complains that he just met his attorney and that his property was removed from his cell.
“Mr. Williams,” the judge says. “I’m the judge in the matter. Shut your mouth and I will tell you when you can talk. You got it?”
Later, the judge says he will hear from the lawyers and tells Williams to “zip it.”
“But you’re not letting me tell you what’s going on,” Williams says.
“That means zip it. Right now. Does that make sense?”
Williams shakes his head. “No it doesn’t.”
“Does the comment, ‘quit talking,’ do you understand that?”
“You’re trying to take my life away, judge, and you’re not letting me tell you what’s going on.”
The two argue for awhile longer before the video cuts again and Russo threatens to gag Williams “in one second” if he has to. After another cut, the judge decides to do it.
“I’m going to tape it, and then I’ll unzip it when I want you to talk,” Russo says. Six sheriff’s deputies surround Williams and give him a warning.
“I want to make it real clear, if you spit on, attempt to bite, or injure any of my deputies, we’re going to have a bad day.“
One of the deputies places a strip of red tape around Williams’ mouth. Williams shakes his head. “It is what it is,” he says through the tape before another piece is added.
Russo sentenced Williams to 24 years in prison, Cleveland.com reported.
Russo told Fox 8 he gave the defendant plenty of warnings and that he had to gag Williams because the court reporter could not keep up with the crosstalk.
“Everybody has the right to go on the record with my court reporter. But we can’t do it at the same time or yelling over each other. My intent was never to silence Mr. Williams,” Russo told the station. “I gave him an opportunity to speak at the appropriate time. More than not, he continued to speak over me and others in the courtroom.” He told the station is was legal for a deputy to gag a defendant.
Some on social media weren’t so sure, and said they felt it was wrong. Others supported the judge’s actions.
Although it isn’t common, judges have ordered defendants gagged in court before for being disruptive. In 2009, an Idaho judge ordered a defendant to be silenced using tape after outbursts, the Associated Press reported.
The ACLU of Idaho at the time declined to comment on specifics, but said “on one hand judges have a right to keep order in their court and on the other the defendants have a right to assist in their own defense and be present at trial. Our hope is that judges employ the least restrictive manner of keeping order in their courts,” according to the AP.
The ACLU of Ohio did not immediately respond to a request from McClatchy for comment on Williams’ case.
Sometimes a gag is used, but not tape. In 2013, a Houston man was led away from the courtroom and brought back with a cloth gag after outbursts, NBC-DFW reported.
The Supreme Court weighed in as well.
In the 1970 case Illinois v. Allen, the justices unanimously decided that defendants do not have an absolute right to even be present at their trial, let alone speak at it.
The court found that trial judges could “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,” if a defendant was being disorderly.