Courts have power to control courtroom behavior and to enforce court orders. Contempt of court occurs when someone disobeys a court order, shows disrespect for the judge, or disrupts judicial proceedings. There are two types of contempt--civil contempt and criminal contempt. In addition, contempt can be either direct (occurs in front of the judge and disrupts the court proceedings) or indirect (occurs outside the presence of the judge).

Civil Contempt

Civil contempt occurs when a person refuses to obey a court order. Civil contempt can be "purged" by following the court order. A fine, confinement in jail, or both can be imposed for civil contempt. The sanctions are meant to coerce compliance with the court's order rather than to punish the person. If jailed, the person will be released from jail when he/she complies with the court order. The failure to comply with an injunction (a court order directing a person to do or not do a certain act) can be civil contempt.

Criminal Contempt

Criminal contempt involves conduct that interfears with or obstructs justice. Examples of criminal contempt include threatening or insulting a judge or witness and disobeying a subpoena to produce evidence. A trial attorney was held in criminal contempt for his disrespectful remarks to the judge in open court proceedings. With criminal contempt, the act of contempt has been completed and the contempt cannot be "purged." The punishment is imposed to vindicate the court's authority. Criminal contempt is punishable by a fine, jail, or both. The failure to comply with an injunction might constitute either criminal contempt or civil contempt, as noted above.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What happens if I'm found in contempt of court for not paying child support?
  • Can I ask the judge to hold my ex-spouse in contempt of court for not allowing me visitation with out child?
  • Can I appeal a court's finding of contempt?

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