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What Is Contempt of Court?

What Is Contempt of Court?

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Contempt of court is a court order, issued by the presiding judge, when the court’s authority has been disrespected or disobeyed. This type of order can be issued to anyone involved in a court case – defendants, attorneys, witnesses and even jurors – and the penalty of the order may range from a fine to jail time.

Direct vs. Indirect Contempt of Court

In the United States, contempt of court may be direct or indirect. A direct contempt occurs in the presence of the judge – the judge will often warn the person committing contempt that he or she is in danger of contempt if he or she does not comply with the court; if a person continues to disrespect or disobey the court during a proceeding, the judge will then issue a contempt order and announce the fine. Indirect contempt occurs outside of the court – for example, if a defendant refuses to pay a court-ordered fine.

Criminal Contempt of Court

Criminal contempt of court is issued for a criminal case, and the court must be able to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that contempt has occurred before the charge and penalty may be issued. Once a criminal contempt charge has been issued, the defendant must immediately pay the fine or begin serving his or her contempt jail sentence.

Civil Contempt of Court

Civil contempt of court is issued for a civil case, and in this instance of contempt a ‘preponderance of evidence’ (i.e. convincing evidence) is needed before the contempt may be issued. If a civil contempt has been issued, the contempt charge is lifted once the person complies again with the court – for example, a parent that does not pay a child support payment in a custody case could be jailed for contempt and remain jailed until they pay the amount owed.

How to Avoid Contempt of Court

To avoid a contempt of court charge – and the extra fines or jail sentences they may carry – any persons involved with a court case or hearing need to make sure they follow the court’s orders. A direct contempt charge may be avoided by following all of the judge’s instructions and by maintaining respect for the judge and the court throughout a court hearing.

*The information in this article does not constitute legal advice. Please contact a legal professional in your local area for the best up-to-date and accurate legal advice.


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