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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.

Definition

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.

Types

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.

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