We've all heard the words "you're in contempt" on television and in the movies. What does it really mean to be in contempt and are there actual consequences for this action? When a judge says you are in contempt, they are stating you are in contempt of court and actually issue an order stating you have disobeyed a direct order given by the court. This order can also be given when you have been considered to be disrespectful during a court hearing or trial. The two most common behaviors for this court order are showing disregard toward the judge or by bad behavior disturbing the court trial.
Contempt can be classified two ways. The first is called direct contempt and results from the contempt happening in the company of the presiding judge. Indirect contempt is the second classification. This kind actually happens outside of the court by someone not following a direct court order. Court orders consist of things such as subpoenas and temporary restraining orders. Breaking these orders is considered being in contempt.
The court itself can begin a contempt trial. Anyone who has an order in place to prevent another party from pursuing certain actions can petition for action on the basis of contempt. The most common reasons for a person being in contempt are child support payment failure, denial of visitation rights, failure to appear in court when subpoenaed, and failure to pay fines or court costs. A complaint must be filed under the clerk of courts who will then issue the party a citation. The citation will state the charge and the possible penalties if found guilty.
The prosecutor or person complaining about contempt must prove four elements for it to be contempt. There must be existence of an order and the person in contempt or contemnor must have had knowledge of it. They must then prove the contemnor was able to comply and failed to despite the ability being present. If they cannot prove these four elements, the contemnor is less likely to be found guilty.
When a person is accused of contempt, they have many of the same protections as someone does in a criminal prosecution. They are considered innocent until proven guilty. This must be beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecution must provide evidence of the contempt. A person charged with contempt can refuse to be a witness at the proceedings. People found guilty of contempt can be fined up to 1,000 dollars or receive up to five days of jail time depending on the states laws regarding contempt. Both can be given as punishment as well.
If you or someone you know has been charged with contempt, a law firms can help. During divorce proceeding court outburst are common for contempt charges. Divorce lawyers see this often due to heated tempers and bad situations. Being charged of contempt is just as serious as any other basic charge. A good lawyer may be able to help the court find you not guilty and make sure the charge stays off your record. Legal advice is recommended and a must when anyone is charged with being contempt of the court.