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What Does It Mean to Be in Contempt of Court?

A judge can issue a bench warrant in Dallas, TX for many reasons. Bench warrants can be issued when a defendant fails to appear in court while out on bail, for example. Contempt of court is another situation in which a judge can issue a bench warrant. If the defendant is convicted of contempt of court, he or she may face fines and perhaps some time behind bars. There are different types of contempt of court, including civil, criminal, direct, and indirect contempt.

Civil Contempt

If a person is found in contempt of court in a civil matter, such as a family law case, it is known as civil contempt. Despite this label, civil contempt is quasi-criminal because it is punishable with legal penalties such as jail time. When a judge finds a person in contempt of court, it is a way for the judge to apply judicial authority to compel that person’s obedience to a court order. For example, a family law judge may find a party in contempt of court if that person is accused of attempting to hide funds from his or her ex in an offshore account.

Criminal Contempt

Contempt of court charges that stem from criminal cases are purely punitive. Regardless of what happens with the case, criminal contempt of court charges will remain in effect. They are intended to serve as a deterrent against future acts of contempt. Whereas a person convicted of civil contempt of court may be released from jail when he or she complies with the court order, a defendant in a criminal case will face legal penalties regardless of compliance.

Direct Contempt

Direct contempt occurs inside the courtroom. It can stem from any behavior or action that is considered disrespectful, offensive, or disobedient to the court. For example, a defendant may verbally or physically attack the judge or a witness. Or, a witness may refuse to answer a question.

Indirect Contempt

If a judge issues a bench warrant because of indirect contempt, this means that the defendant is accused of an act of contempt that occurs outside the courtroom. Some common examples of indirect contempt include the failure to pay court-ordered child support, the refusal to provide subpoenaed evidence, and the engagement in prohibited communication with jury members.

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