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What is Contempt of Court? - Definition & Punishment

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  • 0:04 What Is Contempt of Court?
  • 0:35 Types of Contempt of Court
  • 1:20 Punishment
  • 2:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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 discusses the definition, types, and punishments involved with this offense.

What Is Contempt of Court?

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, witness tampering, withholding evidence, interruption of proceedings, or defying a court order. These wrongful acts may be committed by attorneys, officers of the court, court personnel, jurors, witnesses, protestors, or any party involved in a court proceeding.

Types of Contempt of Court

There are two main types of contempt of court: criminal and civil. 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.

Punishment

A finding of being in contempt of court may result in a judge imposing sanctions, which might include fines, confinement in jail, or both. Since there is no written procedure on contempt of court, not only do consequences and punishments vary in time of incarceration and monetary value, but what constitutes contempt of court is at a judge's discretion.

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