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contempt of court

Contempt of court is broadly defined as disobedience to or disrespect of a court by acting in opposition to its authority. Contempt of court may be punished by the court with civil penalties (fines) and criminal punishment (confinement in jail).

In Texas, contempt of court refers to behavior that disrespects or defies the court's authority, including failure to comply with court orders. Texas recognizes two types of contempt: civil and criminal. Civil contempt is often used to compel compliance with a court order, such as paying child support or alimony, and may result in fines or imprisonment until the individual complies with the order. Criminal contempt, on the other hand, punishes actions that obstruct the court's functioning or degrade its authority, such as disrupting court proceedings or failing to appear when summoned. Criminal contempt can lead to fines, jail time, or both, and is treated as a separate offense. The specific procedures and penalties for contempt are outlined in the Texas Government Code and the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure. It's important to note that individuals have the right to due process, including notice and an opportunity to be heard, before being held in contempt.


Texas Statutes & Rules

Texas Government Code, Section 21.002 - Contempt of Court
This statute outlines the general provisions for contempt of court in Texas, including what constitutes contempt and the court's authority to punish such behavior.

Under Texas Government Code, Section 21.002, contempt of court includes any act or omission that obstructs the court's authority or impedes the administration of justice. This includes disobedience of court orders, disruptive behavior in court, and other acts that show disrespect for the court. The statute authorizes courts to punish contempt by fine, imprisonment, or both, depending on whether the contempt is classified as civil or criminal. Civil contempt generally aims to compel compliance with a court order, while criminal contempt punishes the act of disobedience or disrespect itself.

Texas Government Code, Section 21.002(c) - Punishment for Contempt
This section specifies the punishment that may be imposed for contempt of court, distinguishing between civil and criminal contempt.

According to Texas Government Code, Section 21.002(c), the punishment for contempt of court may include confinement in the county jail for a period not to exceed six months, a fine not to exceed $500, or both. The statute distinguishes between civil and criminal contempt, with civil contempt typically involving a coercive fine or imprisonment until the contemnor complies with the court's order. Criminal contempt, on the other hand, involves punishment for a completed act of disobedience or disrespect and is not conditional upon future compliance.

Texas Government Code, Section 21.002(d) - Right to Appeal
This section provides the right to appeal a contempt order, which is important for ensuring due process and the ability to challenge a contempt finding.

Under Texas Government Code, Section 21.002(d), an individual held in contempt of court has the right to appeal the contempt order. The appeal process must be in accordance with the procedures and rules applicable to civil cases. This right to appeal is crucial for contemnors to challenge the contempt finding or the punishment imposed by the court.

Texas Government Code, Section 21.002(e) - Notice and Hearing
This section ensures that individuals have the right to notice and a hearing before being punished for contempt, which is a fundamental aspect of due process.

Texas Government Code, Section 21.002(e) requires that, except in cases of direct contempt (where the contemptuous act is committed in the presence of the court), an individual must be given notice and an opportunity for a hearing before being punished for contempt. This provision safeguards the due process rights of individuals by ensuring they have the chance to defend themselves and present evidence before any punitive action is taken by the court.

Texas Government Code, Section 21.002(f) - Direct Contempt
This section addresses direct contempt, which occurs in the presence of the court, and the immediate authority of the court to address such behavior.

In cases of direct contempt, where the contemptuous act is committed within the view and presence of the court, Texas Government Code, Section 21.002(f) allows the court to summarily punish the offender. The court must state the reasons for the contempt finding on the record, but the immediacy of the punishment serves to maintain order and respect in the courtroom without the need for a separate hearing.

Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Section 121.001 - Contempt by Publication
This statute addresses contempt committed through publication, which can include actions like publishing material that defames the court or improperly influences court proceedings.

Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Section 121.001 deals with contempt of court committed by publication. This includes any publication that, in the presence of a proceeding, poses a risk to the administration of justice by undermining the court's authority, prejudicing the due course of a proceeding, or impeding the due administration of justice. The statute allows the court to exercise its power to punish such contempt in order to protect the integrity of the judicial process.

Federal Statutes & Rules

18 U.S. Code § 401 - Power of court
This statute is relevant because it outlines the federal courts' authority to punish contempt of court, which is essential for maintaining the integrity and authority of the judicial system.

Under 18 U.S. Code § 401, federal courts have the power to punish by fine or imprisonment, or both, at its discretion, any act of contempt of its authority. These acts can include misbehavior of any person in its presence or so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice, misbehavior of any of its officers in their official transactions, and disobedience or resistance to its lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command.

Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure - Rule 42
Rule 42 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure provides the procedures for the prosecution of criminal contempt charges in federal court, which is necessary to ensure due process when imposing criminal penalties for contempt of court.

Rule 42 addresses the procedures for criminal contempt in federal courts. It distinguishes between summary disposition of contempt (Rule 42(a)) where the contemptuous conduct occurs in the presence of the judge, and the judge can immediately and summarily punish the contemptuous party, and contempt committed outside the presence of the judge (Rule 42(b)), which requires notice and a hearing. The latter procedure ensures that an individual accused of contempt has the opportunity to prepare a defense and present it before punishment is imposed.

28 U.S. Code § 1826 - Recalcitrant witnesses
This statute is relevant as it addresses the power of the court to confine witnesses who refuse to comply with an order to testify or provide other information in court proceedings, which can be considered a form of contempt of court.

28 U.S. Code § 1826 allows a court to confine a witness who refuses without just cause to comply with an order to testify or provide other information, including any book, paper, document, record, recording or other material. The confinement shall continue until the witness complies with the order or until the term of the grand jury or court proceeding concludes, or for a period of up to 18 months, whichever occurs first. If the witness complies with the order before the confinement period ends, they must be released.

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure - Rule 37
Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is relevant as it provides for sanctions, including contempt, against parties who fail to comply with discovery orders in civil litigation.

Rule 37 allows for sanctions against a party who fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery, including depositions, interrogatories, requests for inspection, or responses to requests for admission. Sanctions may include directing that certain facts be taken as established, prohibiting the disobedient party from supporting or opposing designated claims or defenses, striking pleadings, staying further proceedings, dismissing the action or proceeding in whole or in part, rendering a default judgment against the disobedient party, or treating the failure as contempt of court.