There are several ways that “Contempt of Court” can be defined. All of them mean you’ve offended the sensibilities of the court, either through your behavior in court or via a willful disobedience of a court order.
- Any willful disobedience to, or disregard of, a court order.
- Any misconduct in the presence of a court.
- Action that interferes with a judge’s ability to administer justice or that insults the dignity of the court
Contempt may be punishable by fine, imprisonment, and/or any other meaningful sanctions the court deems appropriate. There are both civil and criminal contempts-of-court, however the difference between the two is ill-defined.
While are different forms of contempt of court, in each they are rooted in the belief that the courtroom and its officers are afforded respect, both out of common decency, and because a court acts as a legal authority. Failure to show this respect to the court may compromise the course of justice, cause a mistrial to occur, or otherwise compromise the integrity of the proceedings.
Civil contempt of court involves a failure to obey an order from a court. It can be “made to disappear” by simply obeying the order.
- A person may speak out of turn in a courtroom during proceedings, disrespecting the basic rules of the courtroom. The judge can indicate that he or she will find the speaker in contempt of court unless the speaker sits down and remains silent until it is appropriate to talk. Obey the rule – stay out of trouble!
- A witness might fail to answer a question. The judge will instruct him or her to answer or be held in contempt of court. Obey the rule – stay out of trouble!
- In a situation where a person deliberately disregards a court’s documented order, s/he might not receive such leeway from the judge.
Criminal contempt of court actually hinders the efficient operations of the court.
- Failing to produce evidence when subpoenaed.
- Threatening a judge, jury, lawyers, or other courtroom personnel.
- Yelling at or otherwise being openly defiant towards the judge.
In order to prove a charge of contempt of court, one must be prove that the accused was aware of the court order or rule which was violated, that s/he was able to comply with the order, and that the they failed to do so. If proven, the sanctions for contempt vary, depending on the severity of the infraction, the rules regarding punishment for contempt (such as maximum allowable fines), and the overall mood of the judge presiding over the case. If you or another has committed contempt, it’s highly unlikely the judge will be in a good mood.
To Avoid Being Found in Contempt-Of-Court:
- Always follow the court’s orders!
- Behave courteously in a courtroom.
- Comply with all orders/directives from court officials.
- Be respectful of courtroom personnel.
It’s easy to stay out off of the court’s “negative radar” if you adhere to those simple suggestions. If you have any questions regarding courtroom behavior or procedure, don’t be afraid to ask the bailiff of a court clerk.