United States v. Morton, No. 18-3270 (3d Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Morton pleaded guilty to drug crimes. The government claims that during the investigation, it intercepted telephone calls between Morton and Fagan, revealing that Morton sold cocaine to Emanuel. Morton asked Fagan to collect the proceeds from Emanuel in exchange for a finder’s fee. This transaction was not mentioned in Morton’s plea agreement. Morton separately agreed to provide information about her knowledge of and participation in any crimes, without any promise of immunity. Morton testified as a government witness in several matters.
When Morton was called to testify at a hearing to revoke Fagan’s supervised release, based on Fagan’s attempt to collect Emanuel’s debt, Morton invoked the Fifth Amendment. The court directed her to answer or risk charges of criminal contempt. Morton declined. The government indicted Morton under 18 U.S.C. 401(3); the court did not allow the government to introduce the plea or cooperation agreements into evidence, nor did it allow Morton's attorney to testify about the advice he provided; it allowed the introduction of excerpts from the revocation hearing transcript when the court warned Morton her invocation of the Fifth Amendment was inappropriate. Convicted, Morton was sentenced to 37 months’ imprisonment, consecutive to her 97-month sentence for her drug offenses.
The Third Circuit vacated the contempt conviction. Without knowing whether Morton’s testimony at the revocation hearing could have tended to incriminate Morton in new crimes, the court order requiring Morton to testify was invalid. Without a valid court order, there is no criminal contempt.