In What Ways Does A Person Commit Contempt of Court?

The sanctity of courts must be respected while criticizing their decisions, but there is a thin line between criticism and contempt. So an individual must avoid indulging in a practice that could amount to contempt. In such circumstances, the courts have to initiate actions against such individuals because their behavior seems to demean the court rulings. The gradual process of development of laws governing contempt of court has provided judge’s discretionary powers to determine what constitutes contempt and how to interpret it. However, judges do perform a coordinated analysis of the actions of an individual that they consider as danger and threaten the administration of justice.

What is Contempt of Court?

Contempt of court is often referred to an act of disobedience to, or disregard for the laws and court orders, or any misconduct inside a court; an action that challenges judge’s integrity or interferes with the judge’s authority to deliver justice or that casts disrespect to the dignity of the court. The interpretation of contempt may include a broad range of acts such as failure to comply with rulings, tampering and withholding evidence, and interruption of the court proceedings and defiance, etc. Such an act is punishable by fine or attracts imprisonment or both.

What are Different Types of Contempt?

Contempt of court mainly takes two forms – Criminal contempt and Civil contempt. The criminal contempt is said to have occurred when an individual interferes with the authority of a court to function properly, or causes serious disruption in the courtroom, or yells at the judge, or refuses to testify before a jury. It is also known as direct contempt, and the contemnor may be fined or jailed or awarded both as punishment. However the contemnor may find various ways with which he can get out of jail after getting punishment as imprisonment.

The Civil contempt, on the other hand, occurs when an individual fails to comply with or adhere to order from the court. It is known as indirect contempt because it happens outside a judge’s immediate realm. If at all an indirect contempt takes place somewhere, proper evidence must be presented before the judge to prove that. In this case also fine or jail or both could be sentenced to a contemnor. However, the jail term is only meant for obeying the court, not for punishing and as soon as the person complies with the court order, he will be released. For example failing to pay money for supporting a child as ordered by the court can lead to punishment for civil contempt.

What happens when a public authority willfully disobeys the law?

As per the constitution of the United States, the Congress is conferred with the power to determine rules of its proceedings and punish its members for wrongdoings. Therefore, when two-thirds of the majority is achieved through the concurrence, any member who disobeys the court is expelled.

Enforcing the rules is as important as the power of making them. So they are carefully awarded to the persons who violate and punish them on account of the contempt. However the power of awarding punishments for contempt is allowed only during the sessions of the legislature, which is not extended beyond its realm.

The courts, on the other hand, are the bodies that are provided with an inherent power to enforce laws on all the persons who disobeys their rules and orders. While in the case of some States, the power given to punish individuals for contempt is confined to offenses that are committed by the officers of court by disobeying its mandates or rules. In this regard, 28 U.S.C. is the body that incorporates the provisions, which limits the power of courts of the United States to punish for contempt.

As per a court decision in New York, when a person is jailed for contempt, he cannot be discharged by another judge. It is so because of the domain of exclusivity for the original judges as to what amounts to them as contemptuous.

What critics say regarding contempt of court?

Some legal experts believe that the discretionary power provided to judges in determining contempt of court is too much authority for judges. The criticism fundamentally stems out of the lack of restraint or due process while meeting out punishments for contempt. Also, some critics argue that judges are the principled offended party so that they could be too harsh at times. It’s been observed in the past that certain individuals have refused to provide courts with information, so they ended up in jail. Earl C. Dudley – a law professor at University of Virginia, made a compelling remark:  “the roles of victim, prosecutor and judge are dangerously commingled.”


In the United States, the judiciary has to take note of behaviors of certain individuals that try to disobey or disregard the court orders or authority of judges. In such situations, the person who commits such an act is charged with contempt by the courts. However the contempt of court is broadly categorized into direct contempt or indirect contempt. In the former case, the judges directly spot the misbehavior and impose a penalty or punishment. While in the latter one, the contempt is accused to have committed outside the purview of judges and therefore, have to be proved. The contempt can either be civil or criminal in nature and the judgment meted out should be beyond a reasonable doubt

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