What Is Contempt?
Contempt is a psychological state characterized by a strong feeling of repulsion, either toward an individual or set, and usually toward a specific person or group, although not always toward an ideology. It occurs when individuals feel that they are morally wrong for their beliefs or actions. Contempt can be a very dangerous emotion, as it can lead to acts of violence or even suicide. Those who experience this emotional state sometimes do not recognize that they are behaving in a harmful way, instead believing that what they are doing is justified by whatever beliefs they hold to. To prevent such behaviors from escalating, it is important to recognize the symptoms of contempt.
In the United States, there are two main types of common law contempt: actual and constructive. Actual contempt is considered to be intentional speech and behavior. For example, if a person publicly belittles another person for their beliefs or opinions, that person commits the crime of imputing false information to a government official. Constructive contempt, on the other hand, is defined as a personal lack of compliance with lawful commands. A person who publicly refuses to follow a judge's order to remain seated during court proceedings, for example, has committed the crime of contemptuous conduct.
There are two distinct forms of the crime of contempt. In most states, a person can be guilty of contempt simply by failing to follow a lawful demand. However, some states utilize a different standard of evidence. In those states that require evidence of actual or constructive contempt, prosecutors need only prove that a defendant "behaved in a manner likely to interfere with the orderly operation of the judicial system." The only instance in which actual contempt might be considered in a criminal case is if a defendant fails to attend a scheduled court appearance as a result of a prior court order.
One common element among those who support the criminal contempt theory is the idea that a person who fails to attend court is not really following the rules of the court. Thus, by virtue of this theory, jail time can be given for contempt. Opponents argue that such a policy does not violate the First Amendment. Rather, they maintain that the punishment is disproportionate to the actual wrongdoing. In fact, some claim that mandatory jail time for contempt would cause more harm than good.
According to critics, the purpose of civil court orders is to ensure that individuals respect the legal process. Therefore, they argue, a company that manufactures products that facilitate fraud should not be granted a patent because it failed to design a protective design to prevent possible lawsuits. Similarly, a person who fails to properly file his or her payroll taxes should not be put in jail for failing to produce the tax forms. Such a person may not have direct contemptuous intent but might still act in a way that impairs the ability of the court to function. If an individual has a "direct intent" to cause a problem, or if he or she intends to impede the workings of the court, then a court may indeed prevent that person from ever acting in that way again.
In other words, according to some legal experts, if a person is sentenced to two days in jail for refusing to appear at a court proceeding, then the sentence is disproportionate to the offense. However, some legal authorities are quick to point out that the US Supreme Court has stated that judges do not need to apply the subjective factor of whether the accused violated the law when reviewing a contempt order. Therefore, it may be reasonable for a judge to uphold a criminal contempt order against an individual simply because the judge reasonably believes that there was a violation of the law committed by that person.
What about indirect contempt? According to some analysts, there is a difference between "direct and indirect" contempt. "Direct" contempt is what most people think of when they think of the court system - such as when a judge allows his or her own words to become court testimony. "In indirect contempt," the term refers to the strategy used by some lawyers to get a judge to allow an attorney to withhold information from the jury.
If you have been arrested for misdemeanor charges of criminal contempt, it is important that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible. If you are convicted of this crime, there is a chance that you will receive jail time as well as a number of other severe penalties. However, your lawyer can discuss with you possible options to help reduce the impact of your arrest on your life. A criminal defense attorney can discuss with you the best way to avoid jail time, provide counsel for potential fines, as well as other options that may be available to you.