“Contempt of Court” is a phrase most of us have heard at some point in our lives. What is contempt? More importantly, how do you avoid being in contempt? This blog provides a brief overview of the purposes of contempt and the different types of contempt and provides some advice on how to avoid finding yourself in contempt.
The court’s power to punish for contempt is a power inherent in all courts. Indiana courts have found there are two primary purposes behind the contempt power: (1) vindication of the court’s dignity; and (2) enforcement of litigant’s rights pursuant to court orders.1 Contempt is for the benefit of the aggrieved party who has been injured or suffered some damage as a result of another’s failure to conform to a court order. While the power of contempt is a power inherent in the courts, it is a power that is restrained to a specific situation. Specifically, the power of contempt may only be invoked when an offending party’s actions impede or disturbs the administration of justice.
There are two different types of contempt, pursuant to Indiana Statute2. Those are indirect contempt and direct contempt. Direct contempt occurs when the conduct is done in the presence of the court. Specifically, an individual can be found in direct contempt of court when that individual does some act near the court, during the court proceeding, or when interfering with the business of the court. Indirect contempt is the “willful disobedience” of a court order. To expand, an individual can be found in indirect contempt for refusing to follow a court’s validly entered order outside the presence of the judge. Commonly, this occurs when a party refuses to do an act the court has ordered him or her to do, such as failing to take a drug test, for example.
Contempt, both direct and indirect, can be either criminal or civil in nature. A person can be found in “criminal contempt” for performing an act that is directed against the dignity and authority of the court. Criminal contempt is punitive in nature. The purpose of criminal contempt is to punish the individual and to vindicate the authority of the court. “Civil contempt” on the other hand, occurs when an individual does something, or fails to do something, in a civil action that harms the opposing party. Unlike criminal contempt, civil contempt is not meant to “punish” the individual, but instead, to coerce action for the benefit of the aggrieved party. Because civil contempt is not meant to punish, sanctions for civil contempt must be coercive or remedial in nature.
Remember judges are tasked with solving a problem no one else can solve. We all need to respect a court, courthouse, and judge for our way of life and freedom to exist as it does today. A contempt finding may do irreparable harm to your case. Be aware! We hope you find this material useful to educate you about any such issue you face. This blog post is written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. and is for general educational purposes only. It is not legal advice or solicitation for legal services. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys handle both civil and criminal cases, as well as appeals from all Indiana state trial courts, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, or United States Supreme Court.