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Jailed for Yawning

An Illinois judge has freed a man who had been in jail for three weeks after letting loose a loud yawn during a sentencing hearing. Thirty-three-year-old Clifton Williams of Richton Park was found in contempt of court and jailed on July 23 after yawning in Will County Judge Daniel Rozak’s court. He could have been jailed for six months.

Williams was in court for his cousin’s sentencing on a drug charge. A prosecutor in court at the time described the offending yawn as “loud and boisterous.”

As Williams stood before the bench in shackles on Thursday, the judge gave him a short lecture. He told Williams he wasn’t in custody for simply yawning but for making a sound “that was offensive to the court.”

Man Faces 6 Months In Jail For Yawning

[Updated August 12, 2009 at 8:58 am]

Drowsy spectators in one suburban Chicago courtroom might want to stifle their yawns from now on. Clifton Williams, 33, of Richton Park, is facing six months in jail for making what court documents call a yawn-like sound in Will County Judge Daniel Rozak’s court last month. The yawn happened as Williams’ cousin, Jason Mayfield, was being sentenced for a drug charge on July 23.

Rozak found Williams in contempt of court and sentenced him to six months in jail. However, Rozak could free Williams after a status hearing Thursday, if Williams apologizes and the judge accepts. By then, Williams will have served 21 days.

Witnesses disagree about whether Williams’ yawn was out of line.

Charles Pelkie, spokesman for the Will County state’s attorney’s office, said the prosecutor in the courtroom at the time told him that what came out of Williams’ mouth could hardly be called a “yawn.”

“This was a very loud, boisterous, deliberate attempt on the part of this individual to disrupt the proceedings and show disrespect to the court,” Pelkie said. “It was not a guy who involuntarily yawned. This guy was making a statement — a very loud statement — in court.”

Mayfield disagreed, saying it was “not an outrageous yawn.” Williams has written his family to say that he can’t believe he’s in jail “for nothing.”

A message left for Rozak Tuesday was not immediately returned.

Six months is the maximum sentence judges can give for criminal contempt without a jury trial.

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