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What Exactly Is "Contempt of Court" and What Should You Do if You Are Charged with It?

Feb. 11, 2021

Contempt of Court

Appearing at court isn’t always easy. Most of the time, it triggers our stress response, which can sometimes make us aggressive or for others, wish to simply avoid the issue. Whatever stressful situation you may be in, don’t ever show force, or simply ignore the court's orders. Otherwise, you’ll be charged with contempt of court.

What Is Contempt of Court?

It’s an act of disrespect or disobedience of a court’s order, officials, or the judge. The court is keen on identifying contempt of court acts as it always aims to preserve the dignity of the administration of justice. Besides, this is a way of making sure proceedings are unimpeded and uninterrupted.

Contempt of court could be direct or indirect. And it may include any party in a proceeding, such as the officers, court staff, jurors, witnesses, and attorneys.

Direct vs Indirect Contempt of Court

Direct contempt occurs during the proceeding. Someone can commit this act by using force and yelling. A person who fails to appear at court to comply with a summons could also be charged with this infraction. During hearings, failure to answer as necessary could also be considered as a direct contempt of court.

Meanwhile, indirect contempt happens outside the presence of the magistrate. For example, improper communication with court officers and jurors, reluctance to submit subpoenaed evidence, and failure to follow the judge’s verdict are considered forms of indirect acts of contempt.


There are two classes of contempt of court acts – criminal and civil. State jurisdictions have set the distinctions between the two contempt of court classes differently. But the Supreme Court maintains that the determining factors between these types are the nature of the litigation and character of relief.

  1. Criminal

    Criminal contempts happen when an individual goes against the integrity and authority of the court itself. It can be committed directly or indirectly. And the contempt case becomes a separate complaint on top of the underlying charge. Hence; it’s punitive. People who’ve been charged with this type of contempt are granted the same constitutional rights as those given to criminal defendants (e.g., find legal counsel, jury trial, put on defense).

    The following are some of the examples of criminal contempt:

    • Walking out of the courtroom during a trial

    • Shouting or insulting the judge during a hearing

    • Disobedience of a court order

    • Disregard for court-issued warrants

    • Attributing improper intentions to a judge

  2. Civil

    Meanwhile, civil contempt is committed against another person who fails to follow a court order for the benefit of another party. It’s coercive and remedial. Hence, the one being charged with this case can basically get out of the mess by complying with the court order. There’s no need for a trial. The following are some examples of a civil contempt case:

    • Inability to follow a restraining order

    • Refusal to pay for court-mandated child support

    • Not returning a child to the co-parent after a visitation period

Consequences of Committing Contempt of Court

Disrespecting justice and disobeying the court could get you into some serious trouble. Yes, some contempt cases can be resolved by simply complying with the court order. But in other situations, the contemner may be required to render jail time, pay fines, or both.

  1. Jail Time

    Jail time varies from state to state. Plus, the nature of the case and the severity of the infraction also affect the judge’s decision when it comes to setting the jail time. As some contempt cases are basically coercive, the offending parties need only to comply to avoid jail time. But for punitive cases, the judge may send the offender to jail immediately for a past violation. Plus, the jail time is definite.

    Some offenders only receive more or less 180 days of jail time. But in the U.S., the longest jail time for a contempt case ever served was 14 years. It was given to Beatty Chadwick, a Philadelphia lawyer who got into a rather messy divorce case due to his inability to make a significant financial settlement.

  2. Fines

    Aside from or on top of jail time, the contempt of court offender could also be ordered to pay fines. It’s the judge’s discretion to set the fines. Plus, the amount also varies from state to state.

Posting Bond: What’s the Process?

Allowing the defendants to post bail is part of their rights if they’re given jail time as a penalty for their contempt case. However, if the accused parties don’t have enough money for bail, they may contact a bail bondsman and post a bond instead. Here’s how it works:

  1. The defendant pays the bail bondsman 10% of the total amount of the bail.

  2. The bondsman pays the remaining bail amount but asks the defendant to give collateral (e.g., stocks, stocks, jewelry). If the defendant’s collateral still falls short, relatives and friends might help out.

  3. Both parties will wait for the court hearings.

  4. If the accused individual appears at court, the bail bond is resolved and the collateral is given back.

  5. If the defendant doesn’t appear at hearings, the court forfeits the bail bond and requires payment for the remaining 90% of the bail. The bail bondsman will use the collateral to pay for the remaining amount.

What Should You Do If You Have Multiple Charges?

Got served with multiple charges? Yes, it might be tempting to ignore one of the charges, but doing so will only result in more serious issues with the court. Remember, contempt of court could be served on top of existing charges to compel or coerce the accused person to comply. It’s best to face the charges head-on.

The best way to move forward would be to contact a lawyer immediately. Don’t make confessions and statements, as well as avoid signing any document without advice from a reputable legal counsel. With this move, you can save yourself from a lot of trouble due to uninformed decisions. If you’re in Florida, call Attorney Tom McGuire and his team at the Panhandle Defense Firm to defend you at court.