Criminal Contempt Laws

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Is Contempt of Court?

Generally speaking, contempt of court refers to any conduct that insults, defies, or disrespects a court’s “dignity” or authority. Contempt orders can be issued if a court proceeding is disrupted or if court officers are mocked or insulted.

People who can be held in contempt of court (the “contemnor”) include the parties to a trial, lawyers, jurors, witnesses, court officers, and others in or around the courtroom.

There are many forms of contempt, including:

  • Refusing to comply with a judge’s or court official’s instructions or requests
  • Inappropriate or disrespectful language
  • Disobeying or disregarding court orders
  • The publication of material that is likely to disrupt a court hearing
  • Disrupting the court proceedings or endangering the participants

It is possible to categorize the legal consequences of being held in contempt as either “civil” or “criminal.” Additionally, contempt of court may occur directly (in the presence of the judge) or indirectly (outside the courtroom).

What Are The Most Common Ways to Show Contempt of Court?

Examples of violating a court order include:

What Are the Consequences of Contempt of Court?

  • Imprisonment (usually brief)
  • Fines or sanctions

How Is Civil Contempt Different from Criminal Contempt?

Legal consequences are associated with civil and criminal contempt, such as fines and short prison terms. If the contemnor complies with the court’s orders or requests, the sanctions are considered “civil.” It is the contemnor who holds the keys to their confinement.

Criminal contempt, however, does not allow the contemnor to be released even if they comply with the court’s orders. Rather than encouraging compliance with a court order, the sanctions aim to punish the person.

Civil contempt typically results from conduct between the parties in a lawsuit, whereas criminal contempt is often directed toward the court. Criminal contempt can also occur in a civil case, not just in criminal cases.

What Does “Failure to Appear in Court” Mean?

You may have to appear in person at a specific court in certain situations.

You may have to appear in court for the following reasons:

  • You receive a traffic ticket and must go to traffic court;
  • You are charged with a crime;
  • You are asked to give testimony as a witness in a court case;
  • Another person sues you in a private lawsuit; or
  • You are asked to serve jury duty.

If you must appear in court, you will usually be given a specific date and time. A traffic ticket, for example, usually has a court date. You must appear in court on the court date.

In court, failure to appear (“FTA”) means you missed your court date. You failed to appear in court when you were supposed to. It is common for the court to charge you with Failure to Appear In Court when this occurs. FTA is an abbreviation used by many courts.

FTA means in court that a criminal charge has been made against you for not showing up.

Failure to appear can result in criminal penalties. Failure to appear can have many consequences. Your specific situation will determine the consequences. You may only be required to pay a small fine in some cases. A judge may also issue an arrest warrant in other cases.

Where and When Do I Appear in Court?

The process of appearing in court is generally very straightforward. All you have to do to “appear in court” is show up at the right time and on the correct date. There are three parts to your court date: the place, the time, and the date. A legal document will contain your court date.

Several legal documents state that you must appear in court and mention a court date:

  • Citations;
  • Summons; and
  • Subpoenas

Citations are most often given by police officers when an individual is stopped because they violated a traffic law.

The citation is often called a traffic ticket. It is given to a person for certain speeding and moving violations.

In the citation or traffic ticket, there will be a section that tells you where, when, and where to appear in court.

Sometimes, it may be possible just to pay the fine before your court date. You might not have to appear in court if you decide to do this. Call the traffic court to ensure your payment was received and that you do not need to appear. By searching online, you can usually find the traffic court’s phone number. You can often find the address or name of the traffic court on your traffic ticket.

You might want to appear in court for many reasons when you get a traffic ticket. You can plead guilty to the traffic violation in court but ask for a smaller fine.

Alternatively, you can plead guilty to a less serious traffic charge with a lower penalty.

Lastly, you can decide to plead not guilty and request a trial in traffic court.

A summons is a legal document used in criminal and civil cases. A summons is required for all defendants in a criminal case and all parties involved in a lawsuit. In the summons, you will find the court hearing’s date, time, and location. This is a very important legal document. You must appear in court on the scheduled date if you receive a summons. Ignoring a summons can have serious consequences.

Your civil lawsuit could be lost if you do not respond or appear. In addition to your original charge, you may face more charges if the summons pertains to a criminal matter.

The summons is also used for jury duty. If you are summoned for jury duty, you must appear in court at the listed time and date. If you miss jury duty, there may be penalties. There is a possibility that you will have to pay a fine. You may even receive jail time in some cases.
Subpoenas are a type of court order.

The court usually informs people that they must appear in court for a specific legal proceeding. Subpoenas are most often issued when a witness is needed in court. In most cases, it is not sent to the actual plaintiffs or defendants. Subpoenas to testify, like citations and summonses, tell a witness where, when, and how to appear.

Subpoenas can have a variety of consequences if they are not followed. You may be charged with civil or criminal contempt of court. Contempt of court means that you ignored a court’s directions. You may also be required to pay fines or serve jail time. It is possible to face these penalties even if a witness did not commit any other crimes and was only called to testify.

If appearing in court for any reason, you should follow some basic rules. The responsibility of appearing in court is very important. Respect should be shown to others. There may be different rules in every court.

It may seem silly or obvious to follow some of these rules, but there is still a great deal of importance to them.

These rules are in place to ensure the smooth operation of the court. Courtrooms are considered to be very special places. Many people do not follow these simple guidelines. Flip-flops and unclean clothing can be seen as a sign of disrespect toward our justice system.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

An existing court proceeding can be further complicated by criminal contempt laws. If you have any questions or concerns involving criminal contempt, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer for advice. You can get the best guidance on how to proceed from an attorney who is knowledgeable about the laws in your area.


16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer