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Understanding Contempt of Court

Understanding 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. 

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