Many of us have seen movies and TV shows where someone is charged with contempt of court. It usually involves a lawyer or a client yelling at a judge. Typically the judge will threaten the person with contempt of court if they don’t stop their behavior – and then the scene will cut straight to a shot of the person behind bars.
In real life, contempt of court doesn’t necessarily look like this. In fact, it often doesn’t even take place in a court.
Contempt of court can be a criminal offense, or a civil offense. As a criminal offense, contempt of court comes in two forms that are widely recognized in the U.S. – direct criminal contempt, and indirect criminal contempt. Direct criminal contempt generally involves someone who is present at court showing disrespect for a judge, or for the court itself. Indirect criminal contempt generally involves someone showing such disrespect when they are not in the presence of a court or a judge – for example, by defying a court order.
Florida Statute 83.23 states that “a refusal to obey any legal order, mandate or decree, made or given by any judge either in term time or in vacation relative to the business of said court, after due notice thereof, shall be considered a contempt, and punished accordingly.”
Direct Criminal Contempt
Florida’s Rules of Criminal Procedure lays out the procedures for both direct criminal contempt charges, and indirect criminal contempt charges.
Rule 3.840 deals with direct criminal contempt. It states:
“Criminal contempt may be punished summarily if the court saw or heard the conduct constituting the contempt committed in the actual presence of court…”
Indirect Criminal Contempt
Indirect criminal contempt is dealt with in Rule 3.840, which states that it shall be prosecuted in the follow manner:
- Order to Show Cause. (The judge may issue an order requiring the defendant to appear before the court to show cause why the defendant should not be held in contempt of court.)
- Motions: Answers. (The defendant may move to dismiss the order to show cause, move for a statement of particulars, or answer the order by way of explanation or defense.)
- Order of Arrest; Bail. (The judge may issue an order of arrest of the defendant if the judge has reason to believe the defendant will not appear.)
- Arraignment; Hearing. (At the arraignment, if the defendant pleads not guilty, there will be a hearing to determine the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The defendant is entitled to be represented by counsel, and testify in his or her own defense.)
- Disqualification of Judge. (If the defendant is charged with contempt involving disrespect to or criticism of a judge, the judge shall disqualify himself or herself, and another judge will be designated.)
- Verdict; Judgment. (The judge will sign and enter a record of guilty or not guilty.)
- Sentence; Indirect Contempt. (Before the sentence is pronounced, the defendant will be able to present evidence of mitigating circumstances.)
Fighting Contempt of Court Charges
When you have to deal with court procedures, angering the judge rarely leads to good outcomes. If you’ve been charged with contempt of court, Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Mark S. Lowry can help.