What is Contempt of Court in California?

Contempt of court is more than just cinematic entertainment. It is a misdemeanor offense that can come with jail time and fines in the state of California.

Film and television courtrooms frequently feature scenes of heart-pumping action and uncontrollable emotion, making the court process seem much more like entertainment than serious legal proceedings. Some of the most dramatic events that occur in a TV courtroom usually involve some form of contempt of court. Contempt of court can include a variety of disobedient conduct inside the courtroom. It can also involve a failure to comply with court orders, such as disobeying a restraining order or neglecting to pay child support. 

What is Contempt of Court? 

Contempt of court, sometimes referred to simply as “contempt,” is defined under California Penal Code section 166 as, “disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior committed during the sitting of a court of justice, in the immediate view and presence of the court, and directly tending to interrupt its proceedings or to impair the respect due to its authority.” 

Conduct which can be considered direct criminal contempt of court under this law can include: 

  • Noise or other disruption during a court proceeding 
  • Willfully disobeying a court order 
  • Willful resistance to a court order
  • Refusal to be sworn as a witness 
  • Refusal to answer questions as a witness
  • Publishing false reports of the court proceedings 
  • Disobeying an injunction 
  • Violation of a restraining order 

Direct contempt of court occurs in the presence of the court. Contempt of court can also be indirect, meaning that the violation occurred outside of the courtroom. In general, indirect contempt of court is reported to the police by another party or reported by another party to the court. 

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Penalties for Contempt of Court 

Like any other criminal charge, the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. To be convicted of contempt of court, the prosecution must prove that the court order was actually issued and existed; that the accused knew about the court order, had the ability to comply with the court order and willfully violated the order. 

A conviction under California Penal Code 166 is considered a misdemeanor offense. However, penalties vary for violations under certain subdivisions of the law. For example, contacting a victim can result in up to one year in county jail and a fine of $5,000. A violation of a protective order can result in up to one year in county jail and a fine of $1,000. 

Common Defenses for Contempt of Court in California 

If you are facing contempt of court charges, you should retain an experienced defense attorney who can help you determine the right defense for your case. There are several possible defenses that your attorney may choose to raise, including: 

  • The contempt of court was not willful or intentional.
  • The court order was unknown to the defendant. 
  • The defendant did not have the ability to comply with the court order. 

Get Legal Assistance for a Contempt of Court Charge in San Diego

Have you been accused of contempt of court in San Diego? It is in your best interest to find an experienced, reputable criminal defense attorney to represent you and get you the best possible outcome in your case. Attorney Joni Eisenstein has been representing clients in San Diego courts for over 25 years. She knows the court system and understands the laws around contempt of court in San Diego. 

If you have been accused of contempt of court, contact the Law Office of Joni Eisenstein today to schedule a free initial consultation. Ms. Eisenstein will listen to you to better understand your case and give you honest and upfront advice on how best to proceed. Call Joni Eisenstein today at 760-721-3161. 

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