No-contact order prevented man from defending himself in court

Anton Schloegl was trying to make a point when he fired his legal counsel and represented himself in his court case on charges of assaulting his fiancee during a 2016 car ride to Duluth.

At his arraignment, a judge imposed a no-contact order with the woman and explicitly said it includes any appearance in court.

So when he refused to cross examine the first witness against him — his fiancee — it set the stage to win an appeal on the basis of not being able to confront his accuser.

It worked. Today, the Minnesota Court of Appeals overturned his conviction and ordered a new trial.

“We are sure the district court did not intend this result, but by prohibiting Schloegl from having any contact with S.O. even “at the courthouse” during a court proceeding, the order invited Schloegl’s literal interpretation that he would become subject to criminal punishment if he personally cross-examined S.O. Although we are certain that no district court would punish a defendant for cross-examining a witness under such an order, we cannot say that Schloegl’s literal interpretation is textually unfounded,” Court of Appeals Judge Kevin Ross wrote.

In a dissent, Judge Renee Worke said nothing prevented Schloegl from asking the court to lift the no-contact order so that he could defend himself.

When asked by the court if he was planning on asking any questions during voir dire, Schloegl replied, “No, I am going to remain silent.” When asked by the court if he wished to make an opening statement, Schloegl replied, “No comment.”

S.O. was then called as a witness. S.O. testified at length about the facts leading to the criminal charges against Schloegl. At the conclusion of the direct examination, the court asked Schloegl three separate times and in different manners whether he had questions for the witness. After the third inquiry , Schloegl responded that he had a no-contact order, “so no.” Schloegl did not ask the court at any time whether it would violate the no-contact order if he elected to ask S.O. any questions on cross-examination, even though the district court asked if he had any questions for her.

The Court of Appeals also upheld a jail sentence for contempt of court leveled against Schloegl for throwing items off the table and shouting profanities at the court. It said Schloegl claimed the court simply should have told him to wait outside the courtroom.

“A courtroom is not a classroom,” Judge Ross wrote.