Coping with the Unruly Criminal Defendant: The Options of the Allen Case

Gilbert J. Helwig, Coping with the Unruly Criminal Defendant: The Options of the Allen Case, 7 Gonz. L. Rev. 15 (1971).

In a decision handed down on March 31, 1970, the United States Supreme Court ruled that an unruly defendant could be excluded
from the courtroom during his trial where his disruptive behavior threatened to make an orderly and proper proceedings
difficult or wholly impossible. The vehicle for this decision was the case of Illinois v. Allen, 397 U.S. 337 (1970). Allen had been
tried in a state court in 1957 for armed robbery of a tavern owner. During his trial, Allen threatened the judge’s life, made abusive
remarks to the court and announced that under no circumstances would he allow his trial to proceed. The court responded by removing him from the courtroom, after appropriate warning. Allen was later readmitted, but the trial had proceeded during his absence.Allen’s conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Illinois.
Allen then filed a habeas corpus petition in the federal district court, collaterally attacking his conviction on the ground that his
expulsion from the courtroom during the trial was a denial of his federal constitutional right to be present during the trial. The district court declined to issue the writ but the court of appeals reversed, holding that the misconduct of a defendant could never constitute a waiver of his right to be present at his trial.’ The Supreme Court granted certiorari and reversed, ruling that Allen’s rights to confront witnesses or to be present at his trial had not been violated by his removal from the courtroom.

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