Clifton Williams of Will County, Illinois got alot more than he bargained for when he yawned at an inopportune time during a hearing into his cousin’s guilty plea to a felony drug charge. As reported in the American Bar Association Journal and Chicago Tribune, Judge Daniel Rozak sentenced Williams to six months in jail for criminal contempt for what the Prosecutor described as “a loud, boisterous attempt to disrupt the proceedings.” Williams’ father disagreed, saying “I was flabbergasted because I didn’t realize a judge could do that. It seems to me like a yawn is an involuntary action” and Williams’ cousin, the defendant in the case, weighed in and said that “it was not an outrageous yawn.”
The Chicago Tribune undertook a decades worth of contempt citations and found that Judge Rozak was responsible for issuing a third of them, usually for cell phones going off or shouting by spectators during the proceedings. As noted by the Tribune, criminal contempt in the face of the Court can occur where there are acts that embarrass, hinder or disrupt the Court in its administration of justice or lessen its dignity.
The situation was perhaps best summed up by Williams’ aunt, with whom he resides and cares for his 79 year old grandmother. “This is ridiculous – you’ve got all these people shooting up kids, and here this boy yawns in court [and gets six months]. It’s crazy. This could happen to any one of us.” Williams was eventually released by Judge Rozak after serving three weeks in jail.