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Contempt of Court: What It Means and How to Defend It

Did you have a recent court proceeding in which you were charged with contempt of court? Perhaps you’ve received notice of a court order citing contempt for non-payment of child support or failure to comply with other directives.

Contempt of court should not be taken lightly. Texas courts dispose of about 7.4 million cases per year, so that type of workload can result in swift action when a court proceeding or order is not properly complied with. In this article, we’ll be talking at length about what it is, what you can do if you’re facing it, and how you can avoid it moving forward.

What contempt of court is and what does it mean for you

Contempt of court is a legal term that refers to conduct that is disrespectful or offensive to a court of law. It can also refer to actions that interfere with the administration of justice. There are two general types of contempt: civil and criminal.

Civil contempt occurs when someone disobeys a court order. For example, if a party to a divorce fails to pay child support as ordered by the court, that party may be held in contempt.

Criminal contempt occurs when someone interferes with the administration of justice or shows disrespect for the court. An example of criminal contempt would be if someone disrupted proceedings in a courtroom by yelling or engaging in other unprofessional conduct.

Someone who is charged with contempt of court may be fined, jailed, or both. The specific penalties depend on the jurisdiction. Generally, contempt of court is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and/or six months in jail.

In some cases, the offense may also be punishable by a longer jail sentence. Although contempt of court is typically considered a misdemeanor offense, it can be charged as a felony in some cases.

If you are charged with contempt of court, it is important to seek legal assistance as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help you understand the charges against you and mount a defense.

How to defend yourself against a charge of contempt

An experienced attorney can provide you with a vigorous defense. There are a number of them available, depending on the facts of your case. For example, if you were unaware that your conduct was disrespectful or disruptive, you may be able to have the charges dismissed.

Alternatively, if you acted out of necessity or self-defense, you may be able to obtain a finding of not guilty. A third possibility is that the charges may be reduced to a less serious offense. Fourth,  if the contempt charge is based on your words alone (as opposed to disruptive conduct), you may be able to have the charges dismissed by showing that your speech was protected by the First Amendment.

If you are found guilty

If you are held in contempt, the court will give you a chance to be heard and explain yourself. If the court still believes you are guilty, it will issue a formal order finding you in contempt. The consequences, as mentioned above, hinge on whether the contempt is criminal or civil.

For a criminal disruption, you can be fined up to $500 and/or jailed for up to 30 days. That jail time could be contingent on your willingness to comply with court demands moving forward.

For a civil disruption, the court can order you to pay a fine of up to $1,000 or, more likely, award “compensatory” or “coercive” sanctions. These are designed to punish you and/or compel you to comply with the court’s order.

Avoiding contempt of court

Of course, you can avoid being held in contempt by complying with the judge or court order pertaining to your case. But what if you feel the decision or order is unjust? In that case, you can file an appeal. If you are facing contempt charges, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the allegations against you and what, if any, defenses may be available.

Addressing the underlying situation is another important step for ensuring that it never happens again. For example, if you were held in contempt for being disruptive during a court proceeding, it would be wise to avoid any future proceedings that might place you in a similar position. If you are ordered to pay child support and fall behind, getting current on your payments is the best way to avoid contempt.

It’s also important to take whatever steps necessary to ensure that you can comply with the court’s demands. This might include getting help from a friend or family member, hiring an attorney, or taking steps to improve your financial situation. If you take measures to comply with the court order and avoid any future disruptions, the chances of being held in contempt again will be much lower.Contempt of court is a serious matter, and it is important to have an attorney who can help you navigate the legal system and achieve the best possible outcome in your case. In Texas and federal jurisdictions, that attorney is John Teakell. Give him a call or contact him through the website today with your needs.

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