United States v. Kimsey

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 02-08-2012
  • Case #: 10-16800
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Judge Berzon for the Court; Circuit Judge Bybee and Senior District Judge J. Graham
  • Full Text Opinion

Title 18 U.S.C. § 402 creates a statutory right to a jury trial in a criminal contempt proceeding, and a violation of local court rules, “cannot serve as a predicate for criminal convictions under that statute.”

The U.S. District Court of Nevada convicted James Kimsey of criminal contempt of court, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 402. The court found that Kimsey, who is not a lawyer, was a “ghostwriter” for eight pleadings filed for a pro se litigant in a civil case. Kimsey appealed, inter alia, that (1) the district court denied him his statutory right to a trial by jury and (2) that he could not be prosecuted under § 402 for violation of local rules. The Court found that § 402, referencing § 3691, creates a statutory right to a jury trial and Kimsey’s demand for such at the acceptance of service was sufficient to reserve this right. Moreover, under § 402 a person is guilty of criminal contempt if he “willfully disobey[s] any lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command of any district court . . . if the act or thing so done be of such character as to constitute also a criminal offense . . . under the laws of any [s]tate.” Kimsey and the government agree that § 402 “requires that the same act violate both a criminal statute and a district court ‘rule.’” Looking to the definition of “rule” in the early 20th century when Congress created the statute, the Court determined the meaning to be “a judge’s edict in a specific case rather than general, standing court rules.” Moreover, the Court determined this meaning to be consistent with the other terms of the statute, and that this meaning would avoid “absurd results” allowing a lawyer’s violation of local rules to be cause for a contempt proceeding. REVERSED.

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