In Re: Eldridge, ___ N.C. ___, 2021-NCSC-10 (Mar. 12, 2021)

The defendant was found guilty of criminal contempt relating to his unauthorized Facebook livestreaming of Macon County criminal superior court proceedings. The trial judge sentenced the defendant to 30 days in jail but suspended the sentence on numerous conditions. One condition required the defendant to compose a 2,000-3,000-word essay on respect for the judicial system and to post it to his social media. He was further ordered to monitor the posts of the essay on social media and delete any negative or disparaging remarks made by third parties. The defendant was not allowed to return to court in the district until the essay was posted online. On appeal, the defendant argued that his sentence was illegal and not authorized by the contempt statutes.

As summarized here, the Court of Appeals determined that the trial court had the discretion to suspend a contempt sentence and that the terms of probation were reasonably related to the nature of the offense (and therefore within the trial court’s discretion). Judge Brook dissented in part, noting the potential First Amendment problems with compelling the defendant to delete the comments of third parties on social media. He would have vacated that condition as not reasonably related to the offense or circumstances of the defendant. Based on that partial dissent, the defendant appealed to the North Carolina Supreme Court. In a per curiam order, the North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed. [Jonathan Holbrook blogged in part about the Court of Appeals decision in the case here.]