Contempt of court means disrespecting a court, going against its orders, or disobeying it in any other way. There are two kinds of contempt of court: criminal contempt and civil contempt.
- Criminal contempt involves some form for blatant disrespect of the court.
- Civil contempt often involves a person failing to comply with a court order.
Here are some of the top reasons why you could be held in contempt of court in either a civil or a criminal sense.
1. Yelling at the Judge
It is a judge’s duty to preserve order in the courtroom. So, if you yell at the judge, and if you won’t stop when they order you to stop, then they may hold you in contempt and consider you to be blocking the court’s ability to carry out a trial or a hearing. If this happens, then the judge may send you to be held in a cell until you agree to stop the disruptive behavior.
2. Failing to Pay Child Support
Failing to pay child support can be a direct violation of a court order. Sometimes, people intentionally do not pay child support because they do not want to hand over the money. Sometimes they simply forget. Whatever the case may be, a refusal to pay child support when it is court-ordered can definitely result in being held in contempt of court.
3. Displaying Violent Behavior in the Courtroom
This can include a witness assaulting an attorney, an attorney assaulting a witness, a bystander attacking an attorney, etc. Anyone who is violent in the courtroom or who threatens violence can be held in contempt of court. They can also face criminal charges.
4. Communicating with Jurors Outside of the Court
In general, people involved in a lawsuit or a trial are not allowed to communicate with jurors during the trial, outside of the court. This is because it could potentially lead to juror bias, or it could make the juror feel threatened or pressured. So if an attorney, a witness, a defendant, etc. communicates with a juror outside of court, they can be held in contempt of court.
5. Refusing to Hand Over Subpoenaed Evidence
For example, if a judge orders a person to hand over bank statements, hospital records or other documents, and if that person refuses to do so, then they could be viewed as disrupting a court's ability to effectively carry out a trial. The result could be that the person is held in contempt of court.
6. Failing to Show Up at Court if Your Presence Is Court-Ordered
If the court orders you to show up to the court on a specific day, and if you fail to show up at this time, then you can be held in contempt. When the court gives an order like this, it is non-optional; it is legally binding, and you are completely obligated to follow the order – unless, perhaps, you are medically incapable of showing up to the court on that day (then the court may grant you a reschedule).
7. Breaking a Restraining Order
Restraining orders are court orders and are also non-optional. So, if (for example) the court orders you not to be within 500 feet of a certain individual, and you then violate that order, you can be held in contempt of court.
Consequences of Being Held in Contempt of Court
Being held in contempt of court is generally something to avoid. People who are “held in contempt of court” can face punishments ranging from fines to jail time.
So, if you don't want to lose money and/or spend time in prison, it's a good rule of thumb to respect the court. This means that you shouldn't make scenes in the courtroom or fail to comply with any official orders that the court may give you. If you can avoid doing these things, then it is unlikely that you will be held in contempt of court.