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Off to jail for smiling in court? Lawyers say not so fast

By JOLEEN FERRIS

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Attorneys for a Utica man are challenging the decision of a city court judge who sentenced him to 30 days in jail....for smiling.

Jeffrey Blunt, 20, went before Utica City Court Judge Gerald Popeo on a harassment charge, which is a violation - a lesser crime than a misdemeanor.

According to court transcripts, Judge Popeo said to Blunt: "You're standing there with a grin that I would love to get off the bench and slap off your face," and then subsequently sentenced Blunt to 30 days in the Oneida County Jail for criminal contempt.

It's not Judge Popeo's statement, but his sentencing of Blunt that have the man's attorneys filing legal paperwork in his behalf.

Blunt's attorney, Tina Hartwell of the Oneida County Public Defender's Office, brought the case before Oneida County Court Judge Barry Donalty on Friday, asking Donalty to release Blunt.

Judge Donalty told Hartwell that the proper avenue through which to address the issue is the State Supreme Court.

Oneida County Public Defender Frank Nebush Jr. is scheduled to meet with Judge Popeo at noon onFriday. Nebush says if Judge Popeo allows Blunt to come into court and apologize and then vacates Blunt's sentence, that would eliminate the need to take the issue before the State Supreme Court.

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