Earlier this week, Florida teen Penelope Soto got international attention when a video of her mouthing off to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat started making the rounds online. In the video you see the 18-year-old Soto giggling through her bond hearing, getting chastised for not taking the hearing seriously, and having her bond increased from $5,000 to $10,000 as a result. And that’s not even the best part.

After being called back by the judge to have her bond increased, Soto ups the ante on her already questionable behavior by flipping off the judge and saying, “f*** you,” as she attempts to leave for a second time. The judge holds her in criminal contempt and sentences her to 30 days in the county jail.

You can see the video below:

The judge has gotten substantial criticism online–almost entirely from non-lawyers–for “abusing his power” by upping Soto’s bond seemingly out of spite. One commenter was also bold enough to call him a “sarcastic, arrogant bully” whose “idea of fun is showing people how powerful he is.” On the other side of the fence, it seems like majority opinion is somewhere along the lines of the comment, “That girl was a total brat and deserved what she got.”

Still, let’s take a look at the actual merits of the judge’s actions.

As far as raising the bail goes, under Florida law (Fla. Stat. Ann. Section 903.046) conduct at the hearing
itself does not seem to be one of the factors that the statute says can impact the amount of bail. Although, the judge might be able to say he was considering her “mental condition,” or that her outburst is “any other fact” affecting bail, and both of those would fall into alignment with what the court can consider when determining bail.

When it comes to the charge of contempt, it’s a bit of a gray area. In the case of Woods v State (a similar appellate case) it was determined that “an intent beyond mere rudeness was required before the court could adjudicate Mr. Woods guilty of direct criminal contempt,” and that the judge’s power to issue such a sentence should be “cautiously and sparingly used.”

Regardless, it might end up being irrelevant if cooler heads prevail and Soto ends up making amends for her outburst. Right now it’s being reported that she’ll be back in court on Friday to apologize for her previous behavior.

In the meantime, a Twitter account declaring FreePenelope and a Facebook Fan Page have sprung up in Soto’s honor, proving there are plenty of people who completely missed the biggest take away from the entire story: don’t mouth off in court.

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Andy Gillin

Andy Gillin received his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of California at Berkeley and his law degree from the University of Chicago. He is the managing partner of GJEL Accident Attorneys and has written and lectured in the field of plaintiffs’ personal injury law for numerous organizations. Andy is a highly recognized wrongful death lawyer in California.