A man’s outburst in court as a jury delivered guilty verdicts in a rape trial has landed him in jail over Christmas for contempt of court.
The actions of 26-year-old Jericho Forest were seen as threatening and upsetting for the jury as the foreperson read out the four guilty verdicts.
Forest was not on trial, but was in the public seating in the Christchurch District Court last Friday for the trial of a man he knew on rape and sexual violation charges.
The trial judge, Judge Alistair Garland, had him taken into custody while the trial resumed and then ordered him held in custody over the weekend. On Monday, he imposed a six week jail term for contempt of court.
That sentence was appealed in the High Court at Christchurch today, with a special sitting while the court was on holiday.
Justice Rachel Dunningham ruled that the judge’s sentence was too long and he did not allow enough reduction for the apology that Forest eventually made through his defence counsel.
She also established that the Parole Act does apply to jail terms imposed for contempt, so that Forest will serve half his term and then be released. She reduced his sentence to four weeks’ jail, which means he will be eligible for release early in January.
That will be in time to join his family on a holiday that had already been paid for.
The incident happened late last Friday afternoon as the jury foreperson was reading out the four guilty verdicts against the other man. The outburst lasted seconds.
Crown prosecutor Deirdre Elsmore said it was not just the abusive words shouted at the jury by Forest, but the threatening manner in which he delivered his message.
She told Justice Dunningham: “We see outbursts on occasion but ordinary members of the public don’t often experience that anger and loss of control that we see sometimes. It was very frightening for everyone in the courtroom. That’s why the judge has treated it so seriously.”
The foreperson, a middle-aged man, had clearly found it threatening, and at least one other jury member was crying.
Mrs Elsmore and the District Court judge both commented on the effects on people who were attending court as jurors. Mrs Elsmore said today: “People talk about their jury service and we have enough challenges to trying to get people to do their jury service without this sort of disincentive.”
The court was told that Forest had also begun to advance from the public seating area. He was blocked by a lawyer, Kiran Paima, who happened to be also watching the case.
Forest’s defence counsel Andrew McKenzie said his client had not actually threatened the jury but he had “made some exclamations which the jury found threatening”.
Justice Dunningham said it had been “an aggressive and threatening outburst and the jury were upset”.
Mr McKenzie said he had been unable to find any similar cases where sentences longer than 28 days were imposed, but in this case Judge Garland had imposed 42 days. He argued that the judge should have adopted a shorter starting point and given greater weight to the apology that Forest had eventually delivered three days later, after taking legal advice.
He said he did not accept the District Court judge’s comment that the outburst might reduce people’s willingness to serve on juries. “That is possibly a step too far,” he told Justice Dunningham.
Contempt of court carries a maximum sentence of three months’ imprisonment.
Another District Court was faced with a similar incident – but without a jury in place – on Wednesday afternoon when a man in the public seating took exception to a friend being put into custody.
He began to abuse Judge David Saunders from the public seating, while the sole police court escort took the other man from the dock and into the cells.
As the exchange continued, Judge Saunders announced that the man doing the shouting would also be put into custody but there was no-one in court to do it.
A slightly-built woman court attendant pluckily barred the court’s exit door to stop the man leaving until assistance arrived and he was taken into custody for a time to cool down.