Criminal Procedure

Contempt sentence vacated for teen who apologized for flipping off judge (see video)

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The criminal contempt sentence for an 18-year-old Miami woman who flipped off a judge during a hearing for drug possession was vacated Friday after she apologized to the judge, admitted to being under the influence of Xanax during the incident and agreed to enter a treatment program.

“My behavior was very irrational, and I apologize not only to the court and you but to my family,” a tearful Penelope Soto told Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat. A feed from the hearing was streamed live on NBC 6 South Florida.

During the initial hearing, Soto denied taking any drugs. And the Friday hearing had a somewhat shaky start. Steve Rosen, Soto’s lawyer, had to stop her—twice—from interrupting the judge. He also told the court that his client’s judgment was impaired by alcohol and two bars of Xanax when the incident occurred. Soto, who has no prior convictions, has a history of anxiety problems, her lawyer said, and was trying to get clean when she was arrested.

Alfredo Hernandez, who identified himself as the director of Miami’s Improving Lives Community Mental Health Center, testified that Soto was regretful of her actions in court.

“She [said] she didn’t want to be famous for something wrong she did,” said Hernandez, who proposed that Soto enroll in his group’s outpatient program. Video of Soto’s courtroom exchange with Judge Rodriguez-Chromat went viral, accumulating more than 7.5 million views on YouTube.

Rodriguez-Chomat told Soto that he hoped she learned her lesson. He vacated his contempt finding and set aside the 30-day jail sentence on the condition that she completes a treatment program.

“We live in a society where young people like you feel like it is perfectly OK to call all kinds of names to their teachers, and their professors and their friends. We live in a society where police officers in particular are abused on a daily basis, mostly by young people who believe that it is OK to call policeman all kinds of names,” he said. “That’s totally unacceptable.”

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