If you’ve ever watched even a single TV show or movie that shows a courtroom scene, there’s a good chance that one of the characters has done something that would be considered contempt of court. That’s because what makes for a fair, lawful courtroom environment rarely makes for interesting entertainment to the general public. To keep actual courtrooms from bursting into the type of chaotic courtroom scenes show in movies, some behaviors considered disrespectful to the court are prohibited by law. Contempt of court can be either criminal or civil and criminal contempt is covered by the Penal Code section 166 PC.
What is Contempt of Court?
166 PC specifies that criminal contempt of court in California is a misdemeanor that occurs when a person demonstrates “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.” In effect, this law covers a wide array of behaviors that are considered to be disrespectful of the court, which can include:
- Interrupting court proceedings
- Being loud or disorderly in court
- Refusing to be sworn in
- Willfully disobeying a court order
- Publishing a false report of court proceedings
- Disobeying an injunction
- Violating a stay away (restraining) order
Contempt of Court Charges and Defenses
When a person is accused of violating 166 PC, they can will face criminal charges just like they would in any other crime. This means they have the opportunity to defend themselves against the charges and that the prosecution must prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. This also means that if you are accused of contempt of court while in trial for one criminal charge, you will face separate charges for contempt that could go on even if you are acquitted of the original charges.
The good news is that there are many strong defenses to this crime. In many cases involving court orders and injunctions, the strongest defense is that you did not act willfully. In other cases, you might want to claim you were falsely accused or that you did not actually act in a disorderly manner. Ultimately, the right defense is something you should discuss with your defense lawyer.
Penalties for 166 PC
Contempt of court, 166 PC is a misdemeanor, which is usually punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000. Generally, most people charged with this crime are only sentenced to probation.
That being said, if you have been accused of violating a stay away order (also called a protective or restraining order), you could face a year in jail and if someone was injured as a result of your actions, the law requires you spend a minimum of 2 days in jail. A second violation of this type is a wobbler, meaning it could be filed as a misdemeanor or felony and as a felony, you could face three years in prison. Similarly, violating a court order restricting your possession of a firearm is also a wobbler with a maximum penalty of three years. It’s worth adding that violating a stay away order issued for domestic violence will also result in a court ordered 52 week domestic violence program.
Many of those charged with 166 PC are will also face similar criminal charges under the law, such as stalking or failure to appear.
If you have been accused of contempt of court or a similar offense, call an attorney in San Diego experienced with fighting charges related to 166 PC. Peter M. Liss has over 35 years experience and can help you too. Please call (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024 to schedule a free consultation in his legal offices located right across the street from the Vista courthouse and jail.
Image by succo