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Understanding Contempt of Court

Contempt Of Court

What is Contempt of Court?

Contempt of court refers to any willful disobedience to, or disregard of, a court function or order. Any misconduct in the presence of a judicial system or any action that blatantly interferes with a court’s ability to administer justice or a court ruling is considered in contempt of court. Any action that egregiously insults the dignity of the judge or the broader court system is also considered contempt of court.

Differences between Criminal and Civil Contempt of Court:

A violation of contempt of court is punishable by fine or imprisonment or a combination of the two. Criminal and civil contempt of court are distinctively classified. However, the distinction is often unclear and ambiguous.

Typically the distinction is elucidated if a judge feels that a party has improperly challenged or ignored the court’s authority. In this instance, the judge has the authority to declare the defiant party in contempt of court.

Criminal contempt of court occurs when the alleged party blatantly interferes with the court’s ability to function properly. Typically these actions, such as yelling at the judge or acting inappropriately in the courtroom, occur directly in front of the judge presiding over the case.

A civil contempt of court charge occurs, in contrast, when the contemnor willfully disobeys a court order. The distinction between the two charges is that a civil contempt of court charge occurs outside the judge’s immediate realm of observation. As a result, in order to be convicted of a civil contempt of court charge, evidence must be presented to the judge that signifies an outside action which violated a court order.

United States Interpretation of Contempt of Court:

Court systems in the United States possess an inherent power to punish all parties for contempt of their direct orders and rules, for disobedience of their formal processes, and for blatantly disturbing them during the judicial process.

Although the United States Constitution defines contempt of court and allows each House of Congress to determine the rules of its proceedings and the punishment of its members, each State has adopted its own interpretation and subsequent regulatory code for contempt of court.

That being said, the majority of states uphold the Constitutions interpretation of the illegal act. As a result of this variance, the codes and statutes associated with the infraction vary based on the location in which the act was committed.

What to do if you are charged with Criminal Contempt of Court?

As stated before, a criminal contempt of court charge occurs directly in front of a judge, meaning the action was observed by the judge himself. As a result of this direct action, there is little an individual can do to fight a criminal contempt of court charge. In addition, because the offense takes place in the courtroom, it is assumed that the violating party is already represented by a legal professional.

That being said, there are defenses that can be developed to lessen or appeal the criminal contempt of court charge. These strategies will differ on a case by case basis, so continuing dialogue with your particular attorney is necessary to alleviate the additional charge and subsequent punishment.

NEXT: Understanding the U.S. Court System In A Glance

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