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in law, interference with the functioning of a legislature or court. In its narrow and more usual sense, contempt refers to the despising of the authority, justice, or dignity of a court. A contempt of court can be classified as civil or criminal, direct or constructive. Civil and criminal contempts are distinguished by the function of the punishment—if it is to vindicate judicial authority, the contempt is criminal; if it is to enforce the rights and remedies of a party, the contempt is civil. A direct contempt is one committed in the presence of the court while it is in session. A constructive contempt is one that is committed at a distance from the court and that tends to obstruct or defeat the administration of justice. A refusal to answer a question when directed to answer by a judge is a direct criminal contempt. Disobeying an injunctioninjunction,
in law, order of a court directing a party to perform a certain act or to refrain from an act or acts. The injunction, which developed as the main remedy in equity, is used especially where money damages would not satisfy a plaintiff's claim, or to protect personal
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 or a court order that a judgment (e.g., alimonyalimony,
in law, allowance for support that an individual pays to his or her former spouse, usually as part of a divorce settlement. It is based on the common law right of a wife to be supported by her husband, but in the United States, the Supreme Court in 1979 removed its
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) be satisfied is a civil contempt. A major distinction is whether the court needs to hear evidence to determine if a contempt was committed. Direct criminal contempts may be punished summarily by fine or imprisonment; civil and constructive criminal contempts can also be punished by fine or imprisonment, but the accused must be granted a hearing. In the United States, Congress can punish for contempt of Congress behavior that occurs during legislative proceedings and that threatens its legislative power. Congress must act before it adjourns, and any imprisonment can last no longer than that session. State legislatures also have limited powers to punish for contempt.


See C. J. Miller, Contempt of Court (1989).


wilful disregard of or disrespect for the authority of a court of law or legislative body
References in periodicals archive ?
148) While examining the sanction imposed may prove a useful tool for appellate courts to analyze contempts, the inquiry does little to aid the trial court in classifying the contempt.
162) However, this is not the case for contempts of court; an opposing party may make a motion for contempt, (163) but the judge may also take action sua sponte.
Finally, there is no reason to treat indirect civil contempts differently than indirect criminal contempts.
187) In contrast, indirect contempts do not threaten a court's immediate ability to function, (188) and therefore more procedural protection is granted.
Generally, all indirect contempts should be treated like former indirect criminal contempts.
There is undeniably a need to leave the trial court some discretion in handling contempts before it; (199) however, the lack of guidance to the trial court is troubling.
The distinction between direct and indirect contempt admirably performs this function because direct contempts more directly interfere with a court's ability to function.
Getting Beyond the Civil/Criminal Distinction: A New Approach to the Regulation of Indirect Contempts, 79 Va.
to punish by fine or imprisonment, at the discretion of said courts, all contempts of authority in any cause or hearing before the same.
The problem is further compounded by the fact that many contempts may consist of a verbal assault on the judge.
That the power of the several courts of the United States to issue attachments and inflict summary punishments for contempts of court, shall not be construed to extend to any cases except the misbehaviour of any person or persons in the presence of the said courts, or so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice, the misbehaviour of any of the officers of the said courts in their official transactions, and the disobedience or resistance by any officer of the said courts, party, juror, witness, or any other person or persons, to any lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command of the said courts.
194, 201-02 (1968) (holding that there is no difference between serious criminal contempts and other crimes); Duncan v.