Anyone who’s watched an episode of Law and Order has heard a pointing judge shout, “You’re in Contempt!”, but what is “Contempt of Court?” and what are the penalties? If you’ve been charged with contempt or have a case pending in civil or criminal court it’s important to understand the reality behind these powerful words.
Contempt of Court charges are more than just a judge’s admonishment for bad behavior, Contempt is a criminal charge. A conviction not only brings fines and jail time, but it also remains a part of the convicted person’s permanent criminal record.
What is Contempt of Court?
Courts have judicial powers in the United States to use punitive measures to ensure the respect of the court, court processes, and court orders. The threat of punishment through a court’s contempt power serves to compel parties to comply with court orders both inside a courtroom during legal proceedings and after a judge makes final orders. For example, if a person fails to pay their child support, the receiving parent can file a complaint and the judge may issue contempt charges against the parent in arrears.
In criminal cases, contempt may be either direct contempt, when a person acts in an unruly manner inside the courtroom, or indirect contempt outside of the courtroom; for instance, if a person fails to provide requested evidence or attempts to communicate with a juror.
Jail Time and Penalties for Contempt Charges
When a judge charges someone with contempt of court, the charges may be one of two types, depending on the circumstances:
- Punitive contempt of court actions serve as a punishment and can include a jail sentence of up to 6 months
- Remedial contempt of court actions place the individual into jail until such time as they agree to remedy a situation, such as abiding by a court-ordered child custody schedule
Unlawful or uncooperative behaviors in court proceedings or under a judge’s directives may result in contempt charges and jail time.
For punitive contempt charges, judges have a great deal of discretion when applying the penalty of jail time. Some judges do not hesitate to punish disrespectful or disruptive individuals with the state’s maximum 160-day sentence.
What Court Behaviors Could End With Contempt of Court Charges?
Purposely disrupting court processes is criminal contempt. Any behaviors that disrupt a smooth, respectful court process could result in contempt charges. Common examples include:
- Speaking up out of turn in a courtroom
- Refusing to answer questions
- Making accusations against a judge
A judge’s contempt order must specifically state the suspect’s disruptive behavior and can impose immediate penalties without a hearing since the behavior occurred in the presence of the judge. Indirect contempt charges cover actions outside of the courtroom, so a suspect is entitled to a hearing before a judge sentences them or drops the charges, depending on the quality of the suspect’s defense.
I’ve Been Charged With Contempt, What Do I Do Now?
Anyone facing indirect contempt charges should seek representation from an Denver family law attorney with experience in this area. A defense attorney has provable strategies to defend clients against this type of charge in order to help clients avoid harsh penalties with valid defense claims.