A yawn of contempt

August 13, 2009
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Sometimes, yawning can be criminal.

Just ask Clifton Williams. The Illinois resident was sentenced to six months in jail for yawning during his cousin’s guilty plea to a felony drug charge. His family maintains it was just a yawn, nothing more; the state attorney and judge felt it was disruptive and justified the criminal contempt charge.

According to a Chicago Tribune story, Circuit Judge Daniel Rozak isn’t shy about finding people in contempt. He jails people at a higher rate than any other judge in Will County. If you ever find yourself in his courtroom, make sure not to yawn, have your cell phone off, and don’t scream or shout profanities, and you should be fine.

You could argue Judge Rozak is just trying to run a tight ship, making sure that everyone in his courtroom is respectful. You could also argue he’s “trigger happy” when it comes to ordering people to jail for contempt.

Judges need to be able to control their courtroom, and I have no problem finding people in contempt. Even if Williams was loud and disruptive when yawning, does it justify a six-month sentence? Granted, he shouldn’t be in jail that long, but if that’s what you’re sentenced to, there’s always the possibility you’ll be in jail longer than you’d like. Williams has been in jail since July 23 and will serve at least 21 days.

Williams’ cousin, on the other hand, got two years probation.

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