What is Contempt of Court? - Definition & Punishment

Instructor: Marcia Neely

Marcia Neely is a teacher who holds both a MS degree in Reading & Literacy and a Ed Specialist degree in Curriculum & Instruction.

Contempt of court is the offense of being disobedient or disrespectful towards the court, its officers, or the proceedings of a court of law. This lesson will discuss the definition, types, and punishments involved with this offense.


Contempt of court is any behavior or wrongdoing that conflicts with or challenges the authority, integrity, and superiority of the court. These acts might include failure to comply with requests, tampering, withholding evidence, interruption of proceedings, or defiance. These wrongful acts may be committed by attorneys, officers of the court, court personnel, jurors, witnesses, protestors, or any party privy to a court proceeding.


Criminal contempt can occur within a civil or criminal case. Civil contempt might include a refusal to comply with a court order in a civil action. The punishment prescribed is intended to force compliance with the specific court order as opposed to punishing the wrongdoer. Criminal contempt generally involves serious acts or disturbances that defies the dignity of the court or prevents the court from its normal progression. The punishment is levied to maintain the authority of the court or the assigned judge. Therefore, the purpose of criminal contempt is punishment; the purpose of civil contempt is compliance.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
I am a teacher
What is your educational goal?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 79 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account