As we continue our series on legal jargon, today we’ll be explaining what “contempt of court” means. So, maybe you’ve heard that phrase in Law and Order or from the movie Liar Liar (1997). Wherever you’ve come across it, it’s important to know so you are prepared for the customs and practices of your trial. Furthermore, it’s always smart to have a clever attorney by your side to help you. So let’s take a look at “contempt of court.”
Contempt of Court Definition
First, what is a basic definition of the term? To be held in contempt of court means someone has done something to disrespect the court, the judge, or other authorities in court. Likewise, it can also involve willfully disobeying a court order. Also, depending on what happened, being charged with contempt of court can be a criminal offense.
Second, acts of contempt divide into either direct or indirect and civil or criminal. Let’s define these terms.
- Criminal – associated with criminal cases as opposed to civil cases. Someone who yells at the judge, refuses to testify, or disrupts the proceedings may find themselves guilty of criminal contempt. Plus, punishment can involve jail time.
- Civil – associated in civil cases as opposed to criminal cases. For example, someone who fails to pay court ordered child support would stand guilty of civil contempt. Therefore, the court will respond, not to punish the act, but to compel the person to obey the court order.
- Direct – the act of contempt occurs during the court proceedings. So someone who insults the judge to their face commits direct criminal contempt.
- Indirect – the act of contempt occurs outside of the court proceedings. So if someone fails to pay alimony, for example, this does not occur during the court session. Therefore, it is indirect contempt.
Avoiding Contempt of Court
Third, the best way to avoid any contempt of court is to know and practice common sense court conduct rules. During the court proceedings, only speak when spoken to, refer to the judge as “Your Honor,” and convey respect. Things as simple as that go a long way. In addition, in civil cases, follow what the court orders and decrees. By avoiding child support, alimony, and the like, you’re only hurting yourself.