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criminal contempt of court

Contempt of court is disobedience to or disrespect of a court by acting in opposition to its authority. The power to punish for contempt is an inherent power of a court and an essential element of judicial independence and authority. A court’s power to punish by contempt order allows the court to enforce its orders.

Actions constituting contempt of court can be divided into two categories: direct and constructive. Direct contempt involves disobedience or disrespect that occurs within the presence of the court. Constructive contempt occurs outside the court’s presence. The distinction between direct and constructive contempt is important because it determines the procedural protections that must be provided.

Contempt punishment can be divided into criminal and civil. Civil contempt is coercive, and the contemnor (person held in contempt) may obtain his release by complying with the court’s order. In criminal contempt proceedings, the court punishes the contemnor for improper actions and no subsequent voluntary compliance can avoid punishment for past acts. Criminal contempt proceedings require additional due process protections. The required constitutional protections depend on whether the criminal contempt is serious or not. Serious criminal contempt involves imprisonment for more than six months. However, even for non-serious criminal contempt proceedings, courts have held that parties are entitled to advance notice of their potential punishment.

Finally, because due process requires not only notice, but an opportunity to be heard, a person accused of contempt is also entitled to present a defense to the alleged contempt.

In Texas, contempt of court is considered a serious offense that can be categorized as either direct or constructive, depending on whether the act occurred in the presence of the court (direct) or outside of it (constructive). The distinction is crucial as it affects the procedural safeguards afforded to the accused. Civil contempt is used to compel compliance with a court order, and the individual can secure release by adhering to the order. Criminal contempt, on the other hand, is punitive, and compliance after the fact does not negate the punishment for the act of contempt. Serious criminal contempt, which may involve imprisonment for more than six months, requires full due process protections, including notice and the opportunity to be heard. Even non-serious criminal contempt charges warrant advance notice of the potential punishment. In all cases, the accused has the right to present a defense. Texas courts maintain the inherent power to enforce their orders and uphold the authority of the judiciary through contempt proceedings, which are integral to the legal system's function and the preservation of judicial independence.

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