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Contempt of Court

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Although most people are familiar with the term “contempt of court,” many are unaware of its actual meaning. Being represented by an attorney can help prevent witnesses or defendants from being held in contempt of court, so if you have been subpoenaed by the court or have already been charged with contempt, it is critical to consult with an experienced federal crime attorney who can explain the legal consequences of your actions and help you avoid serious penalties.

Defining Contempt of Court 

The U.S. Department of Justice defines contempt of court as an act of disobedience or disrespect towards the judicial branch, or an interference with its processes. Federal courts can punish those accused of contempt under federal law, which prohibits the:

  • Misbehavior of any individual in its presence or so near to it as to obstruct the administration of justice;
  • Misbehavior of the court’s officers in their official duties; and
  • Disobedience or resistance to its rule, order, or decree.

Due to these limitations, a person can only be convicted of contempt of court if the prosecutor can prove that:

  • His or her conduct qualified as misbehavior;
  • The misbehavior occurred in or near the presence of the court;
  • The defendant’s conduct obstructed the administration of justice; and
  • The conduct was committed with the necessary degree of criminal intent.

Only when these elements have been met can a federal court prosecute a person for contempt.

Indirect vs Direct Contempt  

Contempt can fall under the category of either indirect or direct contempt. Generally, indirect contempt is used to describe behavior that occurs out of the presence of the court, which means that the court must rely on the testimony of third parties for proof that the offense occurred. When the conduct occurs in the presence of the court and within its own hearing, the offense will be considered direct. Common examples of direct contempt include a refusal to obey a court order or to testify at trial.

Being found in contempt of court can result in fines and jail time, so it is important for those who have been accused of this offense t to speak with an attorney who can help them formulate a defense, which could include a lack of wrongful intent or proof that the defendant lacked knowledge of the existence of the court order.

Contact an Experienced Federal Crime Attorney Today  

To speak with a federal crime lawyer about your own pending contempt charges, please call Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. at 305-670-9919. A member of our South Florida legal team is standing by to help you schedule a free, one-on-one consultation at your earliest convenience.

Resources:

justice.gov/usam/usam-9-39000-contempt-court

justice.gov/usam/criminal-resource-manual-769-defenses-negation-essential-elements

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