Contempt of Court Laws

Hannah Graham Case Analysis By Diana Aizman
Aaron Hernandez Trial
Oscar Pistorius Case
Robert Kirk Murder
Geraldo Interview
David Barajas Case

Overview

The offense of Contempt of Court under Penal Code 166 entails different types of behavior that are essentially disrespectful to the court and the court process.  Subsection (a)(4) of the Penal Code Section 166 warrants the most serious penalties because it entails a willful violation of a court order.  As such, our explanation of contempt of court laws will center around subsection (a)(4) of the California Penal Code Section 166:

Penal Code 166 (a)(4):

(a) Except as provided in subdivisions (b), (c), and (d), a person guilty of any of the following contempts of court is guilty of a misdemeanor:

(4) Willful disobedience of the terms as written of any process or court order or out-of-state court order, lawfully issued by a court, including orders pending trial.

Definition of “Contempt of Court”

The Penal Code section 166 pc, punishes behavior that is referred to as contempt of court, which refers to different types of behavior that are essentially disrespectful to the court and the court process.

How Does the Prosecutor Prove Contempt of Court?

To prove that you someone is guilty of contempt of court under subsection (a)(4) of the Penal Code Section 166, the prosecutor has to prove the following facts or elements1):

  • A court lawfully issued a written order2
  • The defendant knew about the court order and its contents3
  • A person who is not directly bound by a court order may nevertheless violate Penal Code section 166(a)(4) if he or she acts in concert with a person who is directly bound by the order.4
  • The defendant had the ability to follow the court order5 AND
  • The defendant willfully violated the court order6
Examples of disorderly behavior during a court proceeding
  • Isaac, a witness in a trial, shouts insulting words about the judge’s political inclination during a trial.  Isaac will be found to be in contempt of the court and can be charged with the offense.
  • Jonathan, a trial attorney, can be held in criminal contempt for interrupting a court proceeding by making disrespectful remarks to the judge about the way the judge runs his court room during court proceedings.
Examples of willful disobedience of an order issued by a court:
  • Mark, a guard mishandled a federal prisoner in a county jail.  He could not be convicted of criminal contempt because this conduct was not embodied in an order.
  • But where there was a court order committing a prisoner into the custody of a sheriff to be held safe until the expiration of his sentence, Mark’s conduct in allowing a prisoner to go free would be considered in criminal contempt of the order.
Examples of conduct that is considered contempt of court
  • Willful disobedience of an order issued by a court;7
  • Disorderly or rude behavior engaged in during a court session that tends to interrupt the session and is disrespectful to a judge and court staff;8
  • A breach of the peace, noise, or other disturbance directly tending to interrupt the proceedings of the court;9
  • Resistance willfully offered by any person to the lawful order or process of a court;10
  • Refusing to be sworn in as a witness and/or refusing to answer questions during a court proceeding;11
  • The publication of a false or grossly inaccurate report of the proceedings of a court;12
  • Willful disobedience of the terms of an injunction that restrains the activities of a criminal street gang or any of its members, lawfully issued by a court, including an order pending trial. 13

Who Can Be Charged With “Contempt of Court”?

Anyone who engages in the behavior described above can be charged with the offense.  In the context of willful disobedience of an order issued by a court, even a person who is not directly bound by a court order may nevertheless violate Penal Code section 166(a)(4) if he or she acts in concert with a person who is directly bound by the order as long as that person knew about the order.

Legal Defenses For Contempt of Court Charges?

There are several defenses that your attorney can assert on your behalf to fight a charge of contempt of court.  Here are the most common ones:

  • The court order was not lawfully issued
  • The defendant did not know about the court order
  • The defendant did not intent to violate the court order
  • The defendant did not have an ability to comply with the court order

Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing Guidelines for Contempt of Court?

Contempt of court under california penal code 166 pc, including violations of court orders, is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in county jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.  However, there are aggravating factors that could result in greater penalties.  The following are examples of aggravating circumstances that could result in greater penalties and higher fines such as imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine:

  • violating an order by owning or possessing a fire arm;
  • violation of a protective order or stay away (i.e. violating the terms of a domestic violence protective order);
  • violation of a protective order or stay away order within 7 years of prior violation;
  • violating on a protective order when you have a stalking conviction.

How We Can Help

We have significant experience defending clients charged under california penal code 166 contempt of court laws and in consultation with our clients we come up with the most effective defense strategy for your case.  If after reading this article you would like to discuss a pending legl matter contact the aizman law firm for a free consultation at 818-351-9555.

Request A Free Consultation 818-351-9555 

Footnotes

  1. Penal Code 166(a)(4 []
  2. In order for a defendant to be guilty of violating Penal Code section 166(a)(4), the court order must be “lawfully issued.” (Pen. Code, § 166(a)(4); People v. Gonzalez (1996) 12 Cal.4th 804, 816–817 [50 Cal.Rptr.2d 74, 910 P.2d 1366].) The defendant may not be convicted for violating an order that is unconstitutional, and the defendant may bring a collateral attack on the validity of the order as a defense to this charge. (People v. Gonzalezsupra, 12 Cal.4th at pp. 816–818; In re Berry (1968) 68 Cal.2d 137, 147 [65 Cal.Rptr. 273, 436 P.2d 273].) The defendant may raise this issue on demurrer but is not required to. (People v. Gonzalezsupra, 12 Cal.4th at pp. 821, 824; In re Berrysupra, 68 Cal.2d at p. 146.) The legal question of whether the order was lawfully issued is the type of question normally resolved by the court. (People v. Gonzalezsupra, 12 Cal.4th at pp. 816–820; In re Berrysupra, 68 Cal.2d at p. 147.  Order Must Be Lawfully Issued. Pen. Code, § 166(a)(4); People v. Gonzalez (1996) 12 Cal.4th 804, 816–817 [50 Cal.Rptr.2d 74, 910 P.2d 1366; In re Berry (1968) 68 Cal.2d 137, 147 [65 Cal.Rptr. 273, 436 P.2d 273]). []
  3. The prosecution must prove that the defendant knew about the court order and that he/she had the opportunity to read the order or to otherwise become familiar with what it said.  But the prosecutor does not have to prove that the defendant actually read the court order.  Knowledge of Order Required.  People v. Saffell (1946) 74 Cal.App.2d Supp. 967, 979 [168 P.2d 497].  Must Have Opportunity to Read but Need Not Actually Read Order. People v. Poe (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d Supp. 928, 938–941 [47 Cal.Rptr. 670]; People v. Brindley (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d Supp. 925, 927–928 [47 Cal.Rptr. 668], both decisions affd. sub nom.  People v. Von Blum (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d Supp. 943 [47 Cal.Rptr. 679]. []
  4. People v. Saffell (1946) 74 Cal.App.2d Supp. 967, 978–979 [168 P.2d 497]; Berger v. Superior Court (1917) 175 Cal. 719, 721 [167 P. 143].) “[A] nonparty to an injunction is subject to the contempt power of the court when, with knowledge of the injunction, the nonparty violates its terms with or for those who are restrained.” (People v. Conrad (1997) 55 Cal.App.4th 896, 903 [64 Cal.Rptr.2d 248] [italics in original].) The mere fact that the nonparty shares the same purpose as the restrained party is not sufficient.  (Ibid.) “An enjoined party . . . has to be demonstrably implicated in the nonparty’s activity.” (Ibid. []
  5. Ability to Comply With Order. People v. Greenfield (1982) 134 Cal.App.3d Supp. 1, 4 [184 Cal.Rptr. 604] []
  6. Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose.  Willfully Defined.  Pen. Code, § 7(1); People v. Lara (1996) 44 Cal.App.4th 102, 107 [51 Cal.Rptr.2d 402]. []
  7. Pen. Code, §166(a)(4). []
  8. Pen. Code, §166(a)(1). []
  9. California Penal Code 166(a)(3). []
  10. Penal Code 166(a)(5). []
  11. Penal Code 166(a)(7). []
  12. Penal Code 166(a)(8). []
  13. Penal Code 166(a)(10). []