Question: What is “Contempt of Court”?
Answer: It is disobedience of the court’s authority, justice and dignity.
Contempt proceedings may be generally categorized as civil or criminal, according to the nature and purpose of the sanction imposed. A civil contempt is a violation of a court order resulting in a proceeding for the benefit of the aggrieved party. As such, any type of penalty in a civil contempt proceeding must be coercive or remedial in nature. By contrast, a criminal contempt is an act directed against the dignity and authority of the court that obstructs the administration of justice and tends to bring the court into disrepute. A criminal contempt sanction is punitive in nature because its purpose is to vindicate the authority of the court, and benefit the State rather than a party.
Contempt may be direct or indirect. Direct contempt involves action in the presence of the court, such that the court has personal knowledge of it. Indirect contempt undermines the orders or activities of the court but involves action outside the trial court’s personal knowledge. A trial court has the inherent power to maintain its dignity, secure obedience to its process and rules, rebuke interference with the conduct of business, and punish unseemly behavior. Crucial to the determination of contempt is the evaluation of a person’s state of mind. When a person fails to abide by a court’s order, that person bears the burden of showing that the violation was not willful.