What Does Contempt of Court Mean?

It is a given that you are not forced nor required to take a liking to any particular judges in the field. However, you are required to obey the court orders, as well as respect the entire judicial process. Nobody is above the law after all. That said, anybody who dares to disrupt a hearing or a trial can be charged with contempt of court. The same thing also applied to those who do not wish to follow court orders. There are also quite a few others that are usually treated as contempt.

These include refusing to support child support orders, being rude or trying to assault the judge or any other person present in the courtroom, and being particularly noisy that the court proceeding is getting disrupted. In essence, there are as many ways to commit contempt as there is the amount of sand on the beach. Just behave properly and you should be good.

What Does Contempt of Court Mean?

What Does Contempt of Court Mean

When talking about contempt of court, the one who is usually being charged more often than not is the party to the action. Yes,  parties could obviously be held in contempt, but they really are not the only ones that are held for it. For example, witnesses who decided to flake out at the last second may be held in contempt. Of course, misbehaving attorneys are no exceptions.

It could be the attorney for either of the parties or any of the witnesses. Not only them, even the jurors, other court personnel, and even those who are in no relation to the case who insert themselves into the case can also be held in contempt. Nobody is exempted from being held in content.

An example as to how an outsider can be held in contempt if that outsider was walking down the corridor, then he saw the witness. Being a jerk, he decides to stop the witness from entering the courtroom for whatever reason. He essentially interfered with the court proceeding and made it more difficult to serve justice and order.

Just like most of the matters in court, judges are the ones who have the responsibility and privilege of charging people to be held in contempt. Contempt could be used to force people to obey the judge. However, it could also be used the other way. It can be a disciplinary hammer for those who decide to be naughty inside the courtroom.

We do understand that all of this information could be quite confusing. In order to make it easier to digest, we will be breaking it more into its four basic components: civil or criminal, and direct or indirect.

Read also: What is a Deferred Sentence?

What is the difference between civil and criminal contempt?

In a straightforward definition, civil contempt means refusing to follow a court order. It can be either of two. Either you do not do what the court specifically tells you to do or you did what the court specifically told you not to do. Either of which is not good and both are considered as civil contempt. Most of the time, civil contempt is utilized during divorce cases. Take this, for example, two people who used to love each other no longer do so and decide to file a divorce.

That is all good and fine, but the other party does not wish to pay for support which the court had officially ordered him to pay. That is civil contempt. Another example is when one of these two former lovers decides to not let the other see the kid despite the court giving a parenting time order.

As we have already explained earlier, the court uses contempt to make people follow its orders. In the case of the parent not allowing the other parent to see the child, the judge may order her to pay a hundred bucks a day until the other parent sees the child.

On the other hand, criminal contempt is another kind of pokemon. This kind of contempt happens when a person actively disrespects the court. This could also be the case if a person acts it difficult to let rule and order be observed and administered inside the courtroom.

For example, someone being accused got a bit too riled up and blames the judge. He then starts to shout cuss and curses towards him. This act can be considered as criminal contempt. Of course, criminal contempt does not only happen during trials of criminal cases.

Using the earlier example, if the parent who was ordered to pay a hundred bucks per day started cussing at the judge, then that is also considered as criminal contempt. This kind of contempt is usually utilized in order to punish individuals who exhibited misdemeanors. The consequence of committing a criminal contempt can be spending a week in jail or paying a thousand dollar fine.

What is the difference between direct and indirect contempt?

Another thing that the court has to differentiate from is direct and indirect contempt. Basically, direct contempt is when the contempt happens within the vicinity of the courtroom. For example, a witness still refuses to answer even when the judge has already given him an order to respond to an attorney’s question. This is considered as a direct contempt. Since the entire thing happened right in front of the judge, the judge holds the power to declare that as contempt right then and there.

On the other hand, indirect contempt is the opposite of direct contempt. It is contempt that happened outside the courtroom. For example, let us use the divorcing couple again. It turns out that the father who does not want to pay for child support actually actively hides his assets so that nobody can claim their share. That is an indirect contempt.

That is still a way of being a hindrance to administering justice and order. In addition to that, attorneys can also be held in indirect contempt.

An example of this is talking to jurors outside the court. This kind of contempt must be brought into the judge’s attention in order to show cause, setting out the actions taken, and the orders that had been violated. After this, the court will then hold a hearing to ensure that everything reported is actually true and not just some fabricated story.

Reference: https://www.justice.gov/usam/usam-9-39000.

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