What is contempt of court?
A person can be held in contempt of court when they disobey or disrespect a court such that it effects the proper functioning of the court.
Contempt of court in Illinois comes in two different flavors. There can be
- Criminal contempt of court or
- Civil contempt of court
Criminal Contempt Of Court
Criminal contempt is treated much the same way any other criminal charge is treated.
Criminal contempt is punitive in nature. The court is not looking into the future, but instead is looking backwards. The goal is to punish behavior that has already happened and the court considers unacceptable.
The type of behavior that is typically punished with criminal contempt of court consists of the following:
(1) Disrespect to judges and other court officials performing their judicial duties
(2) Disruption of judicial proceedings that break the ordinary function of a court
(3) Court orders that are disobeyed; and
(4) Individuals should not commit fraud upon the courts.
When a person is accused of being in criminal contempt of court. That person has to be given all the same rights and procedures that come with any other criminal charge.
That means a person has a right to an attorney, a right to be informed of the charges, and everything else.
Civil Contempt Of Court
Civil contempt is coercive in nature.
The judge simply wants to force someone to do something. It is considered prospective in nature. That means the court wants the person to do something in the future. Usually, the very near future.
We say that with civil contempt the contemnor holds the keys to his own cell. We just mean, that he can end the sanction by complying with what the court wants him or her to do. The faster they do it, the sooner they are let out of jail.
Direct v Indirect Contempt Of Court
Additionally, contempt of court in Illinois is classified two more ways. Contempt of court can also be
- Direct or
Direct Contempt of Court
Direct contempt of court means that the contemptuous behavior is known to the judge. This usually is true when the person does what they did in court in front of the judge.
This is the fastest way to get in trouble.
Direct contempt of court can be either civil or criminal. It depends, on what the court is trying to get done with the sanction. Regardless, of whether it is direct civil contempt or direct criminal contempt, less procedural rights are required.
The law says that with direct contempt –
- May be summarily adjudicated immediately upon occurrence of the contemptuous acts
- No evidentiary hearing is required
- No notice required
- No written charges required
Indirect Contempt of Court
Indirect contempt of court is behavior that is not known to the judge directly. This is usually the case when the contemptuous behaviour occurs outside of the courtroom.
Indirect contempt of court comes with more procedural and constitutional protections for the person being charged. Indirect criminal contempt has the most of these protections.
For example, any person who has been charged with indirect criminal contempt is allowed to benefit from the following safeguards:
- “Petition for Adjudication of Criminal Contempt”
- Same constitutionally mandated procedural requirements as other criminal proceedings
- Right to have nature of the charge definitely and specifically set forth in writing
- 5th Amendment right applies
- Presumption of innocence
- Right to court appointed counsel
- Right to public trial
- Right to confront and cross-examine witnesses
- Right to subpoena witnesses
- Admissions in open court may be punished as direct contempt
- Conduct must be shown to be willful
- Ct must recite that defendant found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt
And the adjudication must be in writing, set forth the grounds upon which the contempt is based, contain not merely opinions or conclusions of the trial court but facts showing the basis of the contempt and contain an adjudication of contempt and the sanctions imposed.
Organization Chart Of Contempt Of Court In Illinois
What Is The Maximum Penalty For Contempt Of Court?
What is the maximum penalty possible for contempt of court in Illinois?
I feel safe in calling it for contempt of court.
I’m saying it is 10 years.
In determining an appropriate sentence for criminal contempt, a trial judge should consider the following factors:
(1) The extent of the willful and deliberate defiance of the court’s order
(2) The seriousness of the consequences of the contumacious behavior
(3) The necessity of effectively terminating the defendant’s defiance as required by the public interest, and
(4) The importance of deterring such acts in the future.
10 years was one sentence for a contempt of court charge when an individual refused to testify in a murder trial.
- People v. Perez, 2014 IL App 120978 (3d) (October). Episode 017 (Duration 13:33) (frustrated traffic court defendant drops the f-bomb when court went into recess – was this contempt of court?)
- People v. Geiger, 2015 IL App (3d) 130457 (Aprils) & People v. Perez-Gonzalez, 2014 IL App (2d) 120946 (June). Episode 071 (Duration 14:16) (What Is The Maximum Penalty For A Criminal Contempt of Court?)
- In re Betts, 200 Ill.App.3d 26 (4th Dist. 1990) (best case describing how contempt of court works)
In re Alltop, 203 Ill.App.3d 606 (4th Dist. 1990) (best case on the difference between criminal and civil contempt of court)
- People v. Ramsell, 266 Ill.App.3d 297 (2nd Dist. 1994) (not appearing in court is indirect as opposed to direct contempt and must be willful, can’t require defendant to show cause in an indirect criminal contempt proceeding is reversible error)
- In re Ruchala, 208 Ill.App.3d 971 (2nd Dist. 1991) (criminal contempt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt)
- People v. Boucher, 179 Ill.App.3d 832 (2nd Dist. 1989) (can’t turn ptr into contempt of court without proper notice and other procedural safeguards – only willful violations of probation can turn into contempt of court)
- People v. Swan, 92 Ill.App.3d 856 (2nd Dist. 1981) (direct contempt of court doesn’t require procedural safeguards, an admission can turn indirect into direct contempt)
- People v. Ernest, 188 Ill.App.3d 987 (5th Dist. 1989) (contains good definition of contemptuous conduct – also good on the differences between criminal and civil / direct and indirect contempt)
- People v. Earnest, 141 Ill.2d 412 (1990) (dude subpoenaed a judge asking him to make a discovery deposition)
- People v. Smeathers, 297 Ill.App.3d 711 (2nd Dist. 1998) (dude held in contempt for filing a lien against a traffic judge)
- People v. Carradine, 52 Ill.2d 231 (1972) (witness held in contempt for coming to court taking the stand but refusing to testify)
- People v. Swan, 92 Ill.App.3d 856 (2nd Dist. 1981) (defendant properly convicted of cc when he refused to comply with a grand jury subpoena when he had no right to refuse)
- People v. Andrew, 335 Ill.App.3d 180 (4th Dist. 2002) (you can file a CC petition in an JD case if the case is still open)
- People v. Budzynski, 333 Ill.App.3d 433 (4th Dist. 2002) (contempt requires new service of process)
- People v. Covington, 395 Ill.App.3d 996 (4th Dist. 2009) (contempt of court for not doing DUI requirements.)
- People v. Bertalot, 164 Ill.App.3d 89 (3rd Dist. 1987) (these probation violation allegations did not rise to the level of a contempt of court)
- People v. Wilson, 293 Ill.App.3d 339 (4th Dist. 1997) (improper to use contempt of court to enforce probation rules)
- People v. Denson, 59 Ill.2d 546 (1975) ( 6 months in jail for contempt of court for refusing to testify in a murder trial was not unreasonable)
- People v. Simac, 161 Ill.2d 297 (1994) (contempt of court against a lawyer was upheld when he allowed a person bearing the likeness of his client to sit at the defense table with him during trial when the real defendant sat elsewhere in the courtroom)