Direct vs Indirect Contempt of Court. The legal term “Contempt of Court” is commonplace on television and in movies but the depictions on television and in the movies is generally not accurate or a complete story of the contempt powers of a court.
It is important to know that you can be held directly or indirectly in contempt. Below is what we mean by that and the difference between the two.
Direct vs Indirect Contempt of Court
The Texas Supreme Court defines contempt as “disobedience to or disrespect of a court by acting in opposition to its authority.” Many people might assume that this can only happen in a courtroom, but if you look carefully, the definition above does not limit disobedience or disrespect to the confines of a courtroom. Contempt is actually any direct or indirect act that is deemed to be disrespectful to the court and obstructs the proper administration of justice.
Direct Contempt of Court
This is when you do something to disobey or disrespect a judge in the court’s presence. In other words, you are physically in the courtroom as a party in the case, a witness, a juror, an attorney, or spectator, and you engage in behavior that the judge deems to constitute contempt. Examples of direct contempt of court include:
- Failing to rise upon the judge’s entrance into the courtroom
- Getting into a shouting match with the opposing lawyer or party in the case
- Intimidating other parties in the case with gestures or threats
- Defiantly overstepping your bounds with the judge
- Lying on the stand
- Swearing or cursing to the point where the proceedings are interrupted
- Showing up to court legally intoxicated
Indirect Contempt of Court
Also known as constructive contempt, indirect contempt of court is a little bit different in that it happens outside the court’s presence. This can include violating a court order or purposely trying to obstruct the court’s actions outside of the court.
Examples of indirect contempt include:
- Refusing to obey a child support order
- Failing to attend a hearing or trial
- Attempting to bribe an attorney or prospective jurors
- Withholding evidence
- Lying in a deposition
- Improper communication with jurors
- Refusing to turn over subpoenaed evidence
Criminal vs. Civil
Contempt may be considered civil or criminal in nature, and to know which applies in a specific circumstance, the court must determine the purpose of the contempt order. According to the Texas District & Country Attorney’s Association, civil contempt is when the confinement is conditioned on obedience with the court’s order. “Once the civil contemnor has complied with the court’s order, the period of confinement should end. Under no circumstances should the period of confinement exceed the punishment range for criminal contempt outlined in Texas Government Code §21.002(a) or (b).”
With criminal contempt, “the punishment is ‘fixed and definite, and no subsequent voluntary compliance on the part of the defendant can enable him to avoid punishment for his past acts.’ The punishment range for criminal contempt is a fine up to $500 or a jail term of up to six months, or both such a fine and jail term.”
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