Judicial Contempt

Judicial Contempt in the United States

Any act that obstructs the administration of justice by a court or that brings disrespect on a court or its authority. Judicial contempt may be direct in that it occurs in the presence of the court and constitutes a direct affront to the court’s authority. While some due process protections apply to contempt, it is generally a summary order through which penalties of fine or imprisonment may be directly imposed by the court. Contempt may be indirect in that the behavior that demonstrates contempt occurs outside the courtroom. It is also necessary to distinguish criminal and civil contempt. Criminal contempt is an act of obstruction or disrespect typically occurring in the courtroom. A party who acts in an abusive manner in a court is in criminal contempt. He or she may receive a fine and/or imprisonment for up to six months. Such punishment may be summarily imposed. Civil contempt, on the other hand, results from failure to comply with an order of a court. Civil contempt is designed to coerce compliance with an order to protect the interests of the party on whose behalf the order was issued. Civil contempt ends when the desired conduct occurs. A legislative contempt power also exists. It may be used if a disturbance is created within a legislative chamber or if people subpoenaed to appear before legislative committees fail to testify. Congressional contempt is not summarily imposed, however. It is handled through the standard criminal process with trial occurring in a federal district court if an indictment has been secured from a grand jury.

Analysis and Relevance

The judicial contempt power provides courts with leverage to maintain courtroom decorum appropriate for judicial proceedings. Contempt enables a court to punish disruptive or disrespectful conduct, and it serves as a deterrent to such conduct. The contempt power also permits courts to compel compliance with a court order. This gives courts some capacity to reinforce the authority of any such order.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Judicial Contempt from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California

Judicial Contempt: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Judicial Contempt. This part provides references, in relation to Judicial Contempt, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Judicial Contempt by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Judicial Contempt and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Judicial Contempt or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Judicial Contempt and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Judicial Contempt. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Judicial Contempt should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Judicial Contempt when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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