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California Contempt Of Court Lawyer – Penal Code 166 PC

Do I Need To Hire A Lawyer For A Contempt Charge?

If you are charged with contempt of court in California, then it is time to reach out to a crime against justice lawyer at My Rights Law. When you hire My Rights Law, you get a firm with experience in winning cases like yours. We will carefully review the accusations against you and work tirelessly to defend you. To get started, call My Rights Law at (888) 702-8882 or complete our secure web form to set up a free consultation.

If you’ve ever watched  a legal drama, you’ve probably seen a judge declare a lawyer, a witness, or a defendant in contempt of court and then have them led from the courtroom, presumably to a jail cell to reflect on their actions. You might infer from these fictional episodes that any sign of disrespect to a judge could result in a contempt of court charge. However, the realities of this infraction are both more expansive and more nuanced than most legal dramas suggest.

Examples Of Contempt Of Court Offenses

Contempt of court is generally classified as a misdemeanor offense[1]. There are various kinds of conduct that can lead to a contempt of court citation. In a “legal drama” context, exhibiting disrespectful behavior during a court proceeding is the most common reason that individuals get cited for contempt of court. This is, no doubt, because shouting, becoming violent, or otherwise being unreasonably disruptive or disrespectful can fuel dramatic arcs. Really though, the most common reason individuals are cited with contempt of court infractions is willful disobedience of the terms of a court order.

Direct and Indirect Contempt

Contempt of court can be committed either “directly” or “indirectly.”

Direct contempt occurs in the presence of the court. A person could commit direct contempt, for instance, by yelling at the judge in a manner that interferes with the court’s ability to function and demonstrates disrespect for the court.

Indirect contempt occurs in the absence of the court. Examples of indirect contempt of court include inappropriate communication with jurors outside of court, refusing to turn over subpoenaed evidence, and refusal to pay court-ordered child support.

If you have been accused of disobeying the terms of court orders, note that there are more elements that must be proven before you can be convicted of this offense than there are if you had been cited with disrespectful behavior. To be convicted, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were subject to the terms of a legal order, knew that the order was in place, had the ability to honor the terms of the order, and willingly or purposefully failed to honor those terms anyway. It may be difficult for a prosecutor to prove contempt if a solid defense is made by a criminal defense lawyer.

Additional reasons for contempt of court infractions include publishing false accounts of court proceedings, refusing to be sworn in as a subpoenaed witness in a court proceeding, and refusing to answer material questions under oath when no legal exceptions apply to the situation.

Can I Go To Jail For Being Held In Contempt?

Most of the time, a conviction for contempt of court offenses can result in a sentence of incarceration in a county jail for no more than six months and a fine that doesn’t exceed $1,000[2]. However, specific actions punishable as contempt of court offenses may result in weightier penalties. Although these offenses are still classified as misdemeanors, they are punishable by a term of incarceration in a county jail for up to one year, not just up to six months:

  • Owning or possessing a firearm if that ownership or possession occurs in violation of a court order
  • Violating the terms of a protective order issued in a domestic violence case
  • Violating the terms of a protective order if the defendant in question has previously been convicted of stalking

Note that multiple violations of restraining order terms may be treated as a felony contempt of court charge under certain circumstances[3].

Defenses To Contempt Of Court Charges

An attorney may be able to successfully argue against a criminal contempt of court charge due to a lack of requisite intent. As in virtually any criminal case, a defendant can potentially argue that they have been falsely accused of criminal wrongdoing or that not every element of the crime has been proven. But a defendant can also argue that they did not engage in a contempt of court infraction willfully[4]. For example, in a contempt proceeding, a defendant could argue that although they violated the terms of a protective order, they did not do so willfully. For example, the defendant had no idea that the subject of the protective order would be at the same place as the defendant.

An intent-based defense to contempt of court charges generally only works when the infraction in question involves disobeying the terms of a court order. For other kinds of contempt of court infractions, skilled criminal defense attorneys must approach the issue of defending their clients using alternative approaches.

To learn more, call My Rights Law at (888) 702-8882 today or contact us through our secure web form for a free, confidential consultation.

FOOTNOTES
[1] California Penal Code 166
[2] California Penal Code 19
[3] California Penal Code 166(c)(4)
[4] CalCrim 2701

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