Contempt Of Court Pdf

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'Disdain' redirects here. For the EP by Alien Huang, see Disdain (EP).
This picture of Thomas Ward, arrested for stealing a coin, can be seen as showing contempt.
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A painting by Louis-Léopold Boilly (ca. 1797).
The woman has been interpreted as a prostitute (who is disdaining the inadequate coin proffered by the fashionable gentleman getting his shoes shined at left).

Contempt, is a pattern of attitudes and behaviour, often toward an individual, group but sometimes towards an ideology, which has the characteristics of disgust and anger.[1][page needed]

The word originated in 1393, from the Latin word contemptus meaning 'scorn'. It is the past participle of contemnere and from com- intensive prefix + temnere 'to slight, scorn'. Contemptuous appeared in 1529.[2]

It is classified among Paul Ekman's seven basic emotions of contempt, anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise,

Robert C. Solomon places contempt on the same continuum as resentment and anger, and he argues that the differences between the three are that resentment is anger directed toward a higher-status individual; anger is directed toward an equal-status individual; and contempt is anger directed toward a lower-status individual.[3][page needed]

  • 6Contempt in relationships

Cultural context[edit]

Facial expression of contempt

Ekman and Friesen (1986) identified a specific facial expression that observers in ten different cultures, both Western and non-Western, agreed signaled contempt. In this study, citizens of West Sumatra, Indonesia, were given photos of American, Japanese, and Indonesian peoples. Their ability to classify some facial expressions as contempt versus the primary emotions of anger, disgust, happiness, sadness, fear, or surprise showed that across cultures, general contempt is universally understood (with level of agreement equating to 75%).[4] “An expression in which the corner of the lip is tightened and raised slightly on one side of the face (or much more strongly on one side than the other) signaled contempt.” This study showed that contempt, as well as the outward expression of contempt, can be pointed out across Western and Non-Western peoples when contrasted with other primary emotions.


Paul Ekman, a widely recognized psychologist, found six emotions that were universally recognized: anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise. Findings on contempt are less clear, though there is at least some preliminary evidence that this emotion and its expression are universally recognized.[5]

In the 1990s Ekman proposed an expanded list of emotions, this time including contempt.[6]

Defining features[edit]

Contempt has five features.[7] Contempt requires a judgment concerning the appearance or standing of the object of contempt. In particular, contempt involves the judgment that, because of some moral or personal failing or defect, the contemned person has compromised his or her standing vis-à-vis an interpersonal standard that the contemptor treats as important. This may have not been done deliberately but by a lack of status. This lack of status may cause the contemptuous to classify the object of contempt as utterly worthless, or as not fully meeting a particular interpersonal standard. Therefore, contempt is a response to a perceived failure to meet an interpersonal standard. Contempt is also a particular way of regarding or attending to the object of contempt, and this form of regard has an unpleasant affective element. However, contempt may be experienced as a highly visceral emotion similar to disgust, or as cool disregard.

Facial expression showing subtle contempt

Contempt has a certain comparative element. In David Hume's studies of contempt, he suggests that contempt essentially requires apprehending the “bad qualities” of someone “as they really are” while simultaneously making a comparison between this person and ourselves. Because of this reflexive element, contempt also involves what we might term a “positive self-feeling” of the contemptuous. A characteristic of contempt is the psychological withdrawal or distance one typically feels regarding the object of one’s contempt. This psychological distancing is an essential way of expressing one’s nonidentification with the object of one’s contempt and it precludes sympathetic identification with the object of contempt. (Hume, 2002, 251) Contempt for a person involves a way of negatively and comparatively regarding or attending to someone who has not fully lived up to an interpersonal standard that the person extending contempt thinks is important. This form of regard constitutes a psychological withdrawal from the object of contempt.[7]


Contempt can be useful to being a functioning member of the moral community. An ethics of contempt provides a much larger breadth of answers than other competing systems of ethics, whether they be based on ethics of actions (judging actions by their rightness or wrongness) or ethics of feelings (e.g., ethics of resentment). By feeling contempt for those things which are found to be unethical, immoral, or morally unsavory, one can both show that they are bad and remove them from the moral community.[8][page needed]


The main response of contempt lies within “publicized expression of low regard for the objects held in contempt” (Miller, C.H., 2005). By this reasoning, a person holding contempt would not have the urge to openly confront the person with whom they are at odds, nor would they themselves try to remove the object of contempt; rather, one who holds contempt would have the tendency to hold the view that others should remove the object of contempt, or hold the view that the object of contempt should remove itself. So while one would make their feelings known to others, the person with contempt would not necessarily want to directly deal with the situation at hand. One who is experiencing contempt would exhibit negative affective behaviors that may be labeled as “cold” – this simply meaning that one who is experiencing the emotion of contempt would tend to alienate those responsible.[9][page needed]

Contempt in relationships[edit]

Gender differences[edit]

Men and women act differently when displaying contempt in same-sex relationships. Not only do girls engage in more non-verbal forms of social aggression than boys do, girls dissembled more than boys do, speaking nicely but making mean faces. In the research provided by Underwood (2004) in their laboratory observation studies where they watch girls and boys in an identical social context in which best friends respond to a provoking newcomer, gender differences emerge not for the verbal behaviours, but for the nonverbal expressions of disdain and contempt (which are so glaring that they were observed with high degrees of inter-coder reliability by both women and men, kappa’s exceeding .8; Underwood et al., 2003).[10]

There are several reasons why girls can be especially prone to conveying anger and contempt by nonverbal forms of social exclusion. One reason may be that girls are socialized from infancy onward to be overtly nice and conciliatory and do so to avoid conflict whenever possible, for fear of being excluded from relationships, disliked, or punished (for reviews, see Brown and Gilligan, 1993; Underwood, 2003; Zahn-Waxler, 2000). Non-verbal forms of social exclusion may be a highly effective way to harm someone with relatively few social consequences; the hurtful act is fleeting, can often be executed behind the victim’s back and outside of the watchful eyes of adults, and, even if caught, mean faces are typically not punished. Second, girls may hurt one another via non-verbal expressions of exclusion or disdain because girls and women may gaze at others more for reasons related to their lower social status, so as to learn as much as possible about others’ needs and desires (see LaFrance, 2002, for a discussion of ‘Smile boycotts and other body politics’, p. 319).

Because girls and women gaze at others often, perhaps mean glares are more effective as a means of wielding power. Third, non-verbal forms of social exclusion may be powerful for girls because their relationships involve high levels of intimacy and self-disclosure (see Buhrmester and Prager, 1995, for a review), thus even subtle indicators of exclusion are threatening. Fourth, non-verbal forms of social exclusion may be powerful for girls because although they fiercely desire and defend popularity with other girls, they dread being labelled as ‘stuck up’ (Merten, 1997).[10]

Legal responses[edit]

In 2003, the Palo Alto City Council defeated a resolution that would have discouraged elected officials from facial expressions conveying contempt at public meetings; this was proposed because council members were so weary of colleagues intimidating one another by these subtle but rude facial expressions.[11]


Research demonstrates how childhood abuse ties into maladaptive communication dynamics consisting of contempt-laden conflict and emotional withdrawal. These findings are important because maladaptive marital communication may be one mechanism by which traumatic childhood experiences translate into poor adult relationship quality. Forms of verbal aggression, such as contempt, belligerence, and defensiveness, are associated with destructive, hostile patterns of conflict resolution ( [Gottman et al., 1998] and [Straus, 1979]). Couples who use such communication styles are more likely to have higher levels of marital distress (Roberts, 2000), lower levels of marital satisfaction (Holman and Jarvis, 2003), and lower levels of marital stability ([Gottman et al., 1998], [Holman and Jarvis, 2003] and [DeMaris, 2000]).[12]

Gottman (1999) identified several behaviors that are particularly indicative of distress in relationships. One series of behaviors, which he termed the 'four horsemen,' includes a cascading of responses such as expressing criticism, defensiveness, contempt, sarcasm, hostility, and withdrawal, the combination of which indicate a critical state of marriage dissolution.[13]

Carstensen, Gottman, and Levenson (1995) found that “Negative emotional behavior, such as expressed anger, sadness, contempt, and other negative emotions, appears to be the best discriminator between satisfied and dissatisfied marriages”. Carstensen, Gottman, and Levenson (1995) also discovered that “In terms of speaker behaviors, wives were coded as showing more total emotion, negative emotion, anger, joy, contempt, whining, and sadness.” This supports the stereotype that women express more emotion than men both in general and in relationships. It also supports the idea that men are less expressive than women and tend to be more defensive minded in conversations.[14]

Six short self-report measures were used to assess several component communication skills (Gottman 1999). Specifically, the questionnaires assessed Repair Attempts, Accepting Influence, Harsh Start-Up, Flooding, Gridlock, and the Four Horsemen. These six measures were chosen because they were of theoretical and clinical interest to the authors, incorporated both adaptive and maladaptive communication behaviors, and included those aspects of couple communication considered by many to be most toxic, including withdrawal and contempt (Gottman 1999; Gottman et al. 1998; Johnson 2003).[13] Finally, the Four Horsemen create a cascading sequence of responses in which one partner expresses criticism and the other partner responds with defensiveness, causing the first partner to react to the defensiveness with contempt, sarcasm, and/or hostility with their partner, eventually withdrawing from, or stonewalling, the conversation. This cascading negative sequence which occurs as a repetitive, interlocking pattern is believed to signify a critical end-stage process of relationship dissolution, representing a final common causal pathway to relationship dissolution (see Gottman 1994).[13]

In the book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, author Malcolm Gladwell discusses John Gottman's theories of how to predict which couples will stay married. Gottman's theory states that there are four major emotional reactions that are destructive to a marriage: defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and contempt. Among these four, Gottman considers contempt the most destructive of them all.[15] For all other forms of aggression the Four Horsemen emerged as significant predictors of classification, which is expected given that this construct includes very negative, contemptuous behaviors. This is consistent with marital research, which contends that these communication behaviors are highly toxic, and erode relationship satisfaction (Cornelius et al. 2007; Gottman 1999).[13][15]

Parental relationships[edit]

In abusive relationships between parents and children, the abusive parent may hold contemptuous views towards their child, or vice versa.[citation needed]


People feel contempt towards a low status individual at a distant proximity, with other emotions resulting from different combinations.[16]


See also[edit]


  1. ^TenHouten, W.D. (2007). General Theory of Emotions and Social Life. Routledge.
  2. ^'Contempt. (n.d.)'. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved April 20, 2008.
  3. ^Solomon R.C. (1993). The Passions: Emotions and the Meaning of Life. Hackett Publishing.
  4. ^Ekman, P; Heider, K.G. (1988). 'The Universality of Contempt Expression: A Replication'. Motivation and Emotion. 12 (3): 303–308. doi:10.1007/bf00993116.
  5. ^Ekman, P. & Friesen, W. V (1969). The repertoire of nonverbal behavior: Categories, origins, usage, and encoding. Semiotica, 1, 49–98.
  6. ^Ekman; Heider (1988). 'The Universality of a Contempt Expression: A Replication'(PDF). Motivation and Emotion. 12 (3): 303–308. doi:10.1007/bf00993116.
  7. ^ abBell, M. (2005). 'A Woman's Scorn: Toward a Feminist Defense of Contempt as a Moral Emotion'. Hypatia. 20 (4): 80–93. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2005.tb00537.x.
  8. ^Bell, M. (2013). Hard Feelings: The Moral Psychology of Contempt. Oxford University Press. ISBN0199794146
  9. ^Miller, C. H. (2035). How dare you! A measure of indignation. Manuscript in preparation, University of Oklahoma.
  10. ^ abUnderwood, M. K. (2004). 'III. Glares of Contempt, Eye Rolls of Disgust and Turning Away to Exclude: Non-Verbal Forms of Social Aggression among Girls'. Feminism & Psychology. 14 (3): 371–375. doi:10.1177/0959353504044637.
  11. ^'City Council Allows Frowning', Daily Southtown, 2003
  12. ^Krivickas, K. M.; Sanchez, L. A.; Kenney, C. T.; Wright, J. D. (2010). 'Fiery wives and icy husbands: Pre-marital counseling and covenant marriage as buffers against effects of childhood abuse on gendered marital communication?'. Social Science Research. 39 (5): 700. doi:10.1016/j.ssresearch.2010.05.003.
  13. ^ abcdCornelius, T. L.; Shorey, R. C.; Beebe, S. M. (2010). 'Self-Reported Communication Variables and Dating Violence: Using Gottman's Marital Communication Conceptualization'. Journal of Family Violence. 25 (4): 439. doi:10.1007/s10896-010-9305-9.
  14. ^Carstensen, L. L.; Gottman, J. M.; Levenson, R. W. (1995). 'Emotional behavior in long-term marriage'. Psychology and Aging. 10: 140–149. doi:10.1037/0882-7974.10.1.140.
  15. ^ abGladwell, Malcolm (2005). Blink. Back Bay Books imprint (Little, Brown and Company). pp. 32–33. ISBN978-0-316-01066-5.
  16. ^Beaumont, Leland R. 'Emotional Competency'. www.emotionalcompetency.com. Retrieved 7 June 2017.
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Contempt of court, often referred to simply as 'contempt', is the offense of being disobedient to or disrespectful toward a court of law and its officers in the form of behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice and dignity of the court.[1][2] A very similar attitude towards a legislative body is termed contempt of Parliament or contempt of Congress.

There are broadly two categories of contempt: being disrespectful to legal authorities in the courtroom, or willfully failing to obey a court order.[3] Contempt proceedings are especially used to enforce equitable remedies, such as injunctions.[4] In some jurisdictions, the refusal to respond to subpoena, to testify, to fulfill the obligations of a juror, or to provide certain information can constitute contempt of the court.

When a court decides that an action constitutes contempt of court, it can issue a court order that in the context of a court trial or hearing declares a person or organization to have disobeyed or been disrespectful of the court's authority, called 'found' or 'held' in contempt. That is the judge's strongest power to impose sanctions for acts that disrupt the court's normal process.

A finding of being in contempt of court may result from a failure to obey a lawful order of a court, showing disrespect for the judge, disruption of the proceedings through poor behavior, or publication of material or non-disclosure of material, which in doing so is deemed likely to jeopardize a fair trial. A judge may impose sanctions such as a fine or jail for someone found guilty of contempt of court, which makes contempt of court a process crime. Judges in common law systems usually have more extensive power to declare someone in contempt than judges in civil law systems. X86.

  • 1In use today
    • 1.2Canada
    • 1.4India
    • 1.5England and Wales
    • 1.7United States

In use today[edit]

Contempt of court is essentially seen as a form of disturbance that may impede the functioning of the court. The judge may impose fines and/or jail time upon any person committing contempt of court. The person is usually let out upon his or her agreement to fulfill the wishes of the court.[5] Civil contempt can involve acts of omission. The judge will make use of warnings in most situations that may lead to a person being charged with contempt. It is relatively rare that a person is charged for contempt without first receiving at least one warning from the judge.[6] Constructive contempt, also called consequential contempt, is when a person fails to fulfill the will of the court as it applies to outside obligations of the person. In most cases, constructive contempt is considered to be in the realm of civil contempt due to its passive nature.

Indirect contempt is something that is associated with civil and constructive contempt and involves a failure to follow court orders. Criminal contempt includes anything that could be called a disturbance, such as repeatedly talking out of turn, bringing forth previously banned evidence, or harassment of any other party in the courtroom.[5] Direct contempt is an unacceptable act in the presence of the judge (in facie curiae), and generally begins with a warning, and may be accompanied by an immediate imposition of punishment. Yawning in some cases can be considered contempt of court.[7]

Contempt of court has a significant impact on journalism in the form of restrictions on court reporting which are set out in statute in the UK.[8][not in citation given]


In Australia a judge may impose a fine or jail for contempt of court,[9] including for refusing to stand up for a judge.[10]


Common law offence[edit]

In Canada, contempt of court is an exception to the general principle that all criminal offences are set out in the federal Criminal Code. Contempt of court and contempt of Parliament are the only remaining common law offences in Canada.[11]

Contempt of court includes the following behaviors:

  • Failing to maintain a respectful attitude, failing to remain silent or failing to refrain from showing approval or disapproval of the proceeding
  • Refusing or neglecting to obey a subpoena
  • Willfully disobeying a process or order of the court
  • Interfering with the orderly administration of justice or impairing the authority or dignity of the court
  • An officer of the court failing to perform his or her duties
  • A sheriff or bailiff not executing a writ of the court forthwith or not making a return thereof

Canadian Federal courts[edit]

This section applies only to Federal Court of Appeal and Federal Court.

Under Federal Court Rules, Rules 466, and Rule 467 a person who is accused of Contempt needs to be first served with a contempt order and then appear in court to answer the charges. Convictions can only be made when proof beyond a reasonable doubt is achieved.[12]

If it is a matter of urgency or the contempt was done in front of a judge, that person can be punished immediately. Punishment can range from the person being imprisoned for a period of less than five years or until the person complies with the order or fine.

Tax Court of Canada[edit]

Under Tax Court of Canada Rules of Tax Court of Canada Act, a person who is found to be in contempt may be imprisoned for a period of less than two years or fined. Similar procedures for serving an order first is also used at the Tax Court.

Provincial courts[edit]

Different procedures exist for different provincial courts. For example, in British Columbia, a justice of the peace can only issue a summons to an offender for contempt, which will be dealt with by a judge, even if the offence was done in the face of the justice.[13]

Hong Kong[edit]

Judges from the Court of Final Appeal, High Court, District Court along with members from the various tribunals and Coroner's Court all have the power to impose immediate punishments for contempt in the face of the court, derived from legislation or through common law:

  • Insult a judge or justice, witness or officers of the court
  • Interrupts the proceedings of the court
  • Interfere with the course of justice
  • Misbehaves in court (e.g., use of mobile phone or recording devices without permission)
  • Juror who leaves without permission of the court during proceedings
  • Disobeying a judgment or court order
  • Breach of undertaking
  • Breach of a duty imposed upon a solicitor by rules of court

The use of insulting or threatening language in the magistrates' courts or against a magistrate is in breach of section 99 of the Magistrates Ordinance (Cap 227) which states the magistrate can 'summarily sentence the offender to a fine at level 3 and to imprisonment for 6 months.'

In addition, certain appeal boards are given the statutory authority for contempt by them (e.g., Residential Care Home, Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation, Air Pollution Control, etc.). For contempt in front of these boards, the chairperson will certify the act of contempt to the Court of First Instance who will then proceed with a hearing and determine the punishment.


In India contempt of court is of two types:

  1. Civil contempt: Under Section 2(b) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, civil contempt has been defined as wilful disobedience to any judgment, decree, direction, order, writ or other process of a court or wilful breach of an undertaking given to a court.
  2. Criminal contempt: Under Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act of 1971, criminal contempt has been defined as the publication (whether by words, spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise) of any matter or the doing of any other act whatsoever which:
    1. Scandalises or tends to scandalise, or lowers or tends to lower the authority of, any court, or
    2. Prejudices, or interferes or tends to interfere with the due course of any judicial proceeding, or
    3. Interferes or tends to interfere with, or obstructs or tends to obstruct, the administration of justice in any other manner.


Six months, or fine up to ₹2000, or both.[clarification needed]

England and Wales[edit]

In English law (a common law jurisdiction) the law on contempt is partly set out in case law, and partly specified in the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Contempt may be a criminal or civil offence. The maximum sentence for criminal contempt is two years.

Disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior toward the judge or magistrates while holding the court, tending to interrupt the due course of a trial or other judicial proceeding, may be prosecuted as 'direct' contempt. The term 'direct' means that the court itself cites the person in contempt by describing the behavior observed on the record. Direct contempt is distinctly different from indirect contempt, wherein another individual may file papers alleging contempt against a person who has willfully violated a lawful court order.

Criminal contempt of court[edit]

The Crown Court is a superior court of record under the Senior Courts Act 1981 and accordingly has power to punish for contempt of its own motion. The Divisional Court has stated that this power applies in three circumstances:

  1. Contempt 'in the face of the court' (not to be taken literally; the judge does not need to see it, provided it took place within the court precincts or relates to a case currently before that court);
  2. Disobedience of a court order; and
  3. Breaches of undertakings to the court.

Where it is necessary to act quickly the judge (even the trial judge) may act to sentence for contempt.

Where it is not necessary to be so urgent, or where indirect contempt has taken place the Attorney General can intervene and the Crown Prosecution Service will institute criminal proceedings on his behalf before a Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales.

Magistrates' courts are not superior courts of record, but nonetheless have powers granted under the Contempt of Court Act 1981. They may detain any person who insults the court or otherwise disrupts its proceedings until the end of the sitting. Upon the contempt being either admitted or proved the judge or JP may imprison the offender for a maximum of one month, fine them up to £2,500, or do both.

It is contempt of court to bring an audio recording device or picture-taking device of any sort into an English court without the consent of the court.[14]

It is not contempt of court (under section 10 of the Act) for a journalist to refuse to disclose his sources, unless the court has considered the evidence available and determined that the information is 'necessary in the interests of justice or national security or for the prevention of disorder or crime'.

Strict liability contempt[edit]

Under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 it is criminal contempt of court to publish anything which creates a real risk that the course of justice in proceedings may be seriously impaired. It only applies where proceedings are active, and the Attorney General has issued guidance as to when he believes this to be the case, and there is also statutory guidance. The clause prevents the newspapers and media from publishing material that is too extreme or sensationalist about a criminal case until the trial or linked trials are over and the juries have given their verdicts.

Section 2 of the Act limits the common law presumption that conduct may be treated as contempt regardless of intention: now only cases where there is a substantial risk of serious prejudice to a trial are affected.

Civil contempt[edit]

In civil proceedings there are two main ways in which contempt is committed:

  1. Failure to attend at court despite a summons requiring attendance. In respect of the High Court, historically a writ of latitat would have been issued, but now a bench warrant is issued, authorizing the tipstaff to arrange for the arrest of the individual, and imprisonment until the date and time the court appoints to next sit. In practice a groveling letter of apology to the court is sufficient to ward off this possibility, and in any event the warrant is generally 'backed for bail'—i.e., bail will be granted once the arrest has been made and a location where the person can be found in future established.[citation needed]
  2. Failure to comply with a court order. A copy of the order, with a 'penal notice'—i.e., notice informing the recipient that if they do not comply they are subject to imprisonment—is served on the person concerned. If, after that, they breach the order, proceedings can be started and in theory the person involved can be sent to prison. In practice this rarely happens as the cost on the claimant of bringing these proceedings is significant and in practice imprisonment is rarely ordered as an apology or fine are usually considered appropriate.


Main article: Offence of scandalizing the court in Singapore

United States[edit]

In United States jurisprudence, acts of contempt are generally divided into direct or indirect and civil or criminal. Direct contempt occurs in the presence of a judge; civil contempt is 'coercive and remedial' as opposed to punitive. In the United States, relevant statutes include 18 U.S.C.§§ 401–403 and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 42.[15]

  1. Direct contempt is that which occurs in the presence of the presiding judge (in facie curiae) and may be dealt with summarily: the judge notifies the offending party that he or she has acted in a manner which disrupts the tribunal and prejudices the administration of justice. After giving the person the opportunity to respond, the judge may impose the sanction immediately.
  2. Indirect contempt occurs outside the immediate presence of the court and consists of disobedience of a court's prior order. Generally a party will be accused of indirect contempt by the party for whose benefit the order was entered. A person cited for indirect contempt is entitled to notice of the charge and an opportunity for hearing of the evidence of contempt and, since there is no written procedure, may or may not be allowed to present evidence in rebuttal.

Contempt of court in a civil suit is generally not considered to be a criminal offense, with the party benefiting from the order also holding responsibility for the enforcement of the order. However, some cases of civil contempt have been perceived as intending to harm the reputation of the plaintiff, or to a lesser degree, the judge or the court.

Sanctions for contempt may be criminal or civil. If a person is to be punished criminally, then the contempt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, but once the charge is proven, then punishment (such as a fine or, in more serious cases, imprisonment) is imposed unconditionally. The civil sanction for contempt (which is typically incarceration in the custody of the sheriff or similar court officer) is limited in its imposition for so long as the disobedience to the court's order continues: once the party complies with the court's order, the sanction is lifted. The imposed party is said to 'hold the keys' to his or her own cell, thus conventional due process is not required. In federal and most state courts, the burden of proof for civil contempt is clear and convincing evidence, a lower standard than in criminal cases.[16]

In civil contempt cases there is no principle of proportionality. In Chadwick v. Janecka (3d Cir. 2002), a U.S. court of appeals held that H. Beatty Chadwick could be held indefinitely under federal law, for his failure to produce US$2.5 million as state court ordered in a civil trial. Chadwick had been imprisoned for nine years at that time and continued to be held in prison until 2009, when a state court set him free after 14 years, making his imprisonment the longest on a contempt charge to date.

Civil contempt is only appropriate when the imposed party has the power to comply with the underlying order.[17] Controversial contempt rulings have periodically arisen from cases involving asset protection trusts, where the court has ordered a settlor of an asset protection trust to repatriate assets so that the assets may be made available to a creditor.[18] A court cannot maintain an order of contempt where the imposed party does not have the ability to comply with the underlying order. This claim when made by the imposed party is known as the 'impossibility defense'.[19]

Contempt of court is considered a prerogative of the court, and 'the requirement of a jury does not apply to 'contempts committed in disobedience of any lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command entered in any suit or action brought or prosecuted in the name of, or on behalf of, the United States.' This stance is not universally agreed with by other areas of the legal world, and there have been many calls to have contempt cases to be tried by jury, rather than by judge, as a potential conflict of interest rising from a judge both accusing and sentencing the defendant. At least one Supreme Court Justice has made calls for jury trials to replace judge trials on contempt cases.[20]

The United States Marshals Service is the agency component that first holds all federal prisoners. It uses the Prisoner Population Management System /Prisoner Tracking System. The only types of records that are disclosed as being in the system are those of 'federal prisoners who are in custody pending criminal proceedings.' The records of 'alleged civil contempors' are not listed in the Federal Register as being in the system leading to a potential claim for damages under The Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C.§ 552a(e)(4)(I).[21]

News media in the United States[edit]

In the United States, because of the broad protections granted by the First Amendment, with extremely limited exceptions, unless the media outlet is a party to the case, a media outlet cannot be found in contempt of court for reporting about a case because a court cannot order the media in general not to report on a case or forbid it from reporting facts discovered publicly.[22] Newspapers cannot be closed because of their content.[23]


There have been criticisms over the practice of trying contempt from the bench. In particular, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote in a dissent, 'It is high time, in my judgment, to wipe out root and branch the judge-invented and judge-maintained notion that judges can try criminal contempt cases without a jury.'[20]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^'contempt: definition of contempt in Oxford dictionary (American English) (US)'. Oxforddictionaries.com. 2014-08-05. Retrieved 2014-08-13.
  2. ^'West's Encyclopedia of American Law'. TheFreeDictionary.com. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  3. ^'Legal Dictionary Law.com'. Dictionary.law.com. 2010-12-09. Retrieved 2014-08-13.
  4. ^Bray, Samuel (2014). 'The Myth of the Mild Declaratory Judgment'. Duke Law Journal. 63: 1091. SSRN2330050.
  5. ^ abHill, G. (2008). Contempt of Court. Retrieved April 12, 2008 from, Law.dictionary.com Web site: [1]
  6. ^Hill, G. (2008). Contempt of Court. Retrieved April 12, 2008 from , Law.dictionary.com Web site:[2]
  7. ^Liu, Caitlin (April 20, 2005), Sleepy Juror Gets Rude Awakening, Los Angeles Times
  8. ^Media Law Web, Winchester University,UK (2009)Web siteArchived 2010-02-22 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^'Contempt & court reporting in Australia'. Thenewsmanual.net. Retrieved 2014-08-13.
  10. ^Robinson, Natasha (9 December 2016). 'Islamic State recruiter's wife Moutia Elzahed may be first charged under disrespectful behaviour laws'. ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 9 December 2016.
  11. ^A Compendium of Law and Judges[permanent dead link]
  12. ^Federal Court Rules Chapter 12
  13. ^Provincial Court Act Jurisdiction of justice
  14. ^'Contempt of Court and Reporting Restrictions: Legal Guidance: The Crown Prosecution Service'. www.cps.gov.uk. Retrieved 2017-03-29.
  15. ^[Doyle C. (2010). Obstruction of Justice: An Overview of Some of the Federal Statutes That Prohibit Interference with Judicial, Executive, or Legislative ActivitiesArchived 2013-06-15 at the Wayback Machine. Congressional Research Service.
  16. ^Fischer, James M. (2010-12-07). Understanding Remedies. LexisNexis. ISBN9781422486559.
  17. ^'See In re Marciano'. Donlevy-Rosen & Rosen, P.A.: Westlaw.
  18. ^Howard Rosen; Patricia Donlevy-Rosen. 'The Importance of Proper APT Design & Counsel'. The Asset Protection News.
  19. ^Phillips, Sam. 'In re Marciano - an analysis of the impossibility defense in contempt'. Donlevy-Rosen & Rosen, P.A.
  20. ^ abUnited States v. Barnett, 376U.S.681 (1964).
  21. ^Federal Register on November 8, 1999 in Vol. 64, No. 215 page 60836 a “Revised Notice regarding its Prisoner Tracking System”
  22. ^Nebraska Press Assn. v. Stuart, 427U.S.539 (1976).
  23. ^Near v. Minnesota, 283U.S.697 (1931).


  • Scarce, Rik. 'Contempt of Court: A Scholar's Battle for Free Speech from behind Bars' (2005) (ISBN0759106436).

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  • 'Contempt of Court' . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
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