Contempt Of Court – Penal Code Section 166
Contempt of court in Los Angeles comes up in a number of different circumstances. You really don’t see it prosecuted too often. It’s usually a judge having some issues with somebody’s behavior related to a criminal case in the courtroom where the judge presides. It can be a number of different ways that a contempt proceeding can come up and it doesn’t necessarily have to be just limited to a particular defendant. It could be audience members, it could be the attorney, it could be somebody disobeying some sort of court order – there’s a number of different ways that a contempt issue can come up pursuant to Penal Code Section 166.
As far as defendants go in a contempt order, if a defendant is acting rude and nasty, yells at the judge, curses, is not doing what they’re supposed to, is being disrespectful, then that defendant can be held in contempt of court, can be prosecuted, can be placed in jail, can be fined – a number of different things can be done. But usually, the contempt has to do with some sort of disrespectful belligerent crazy behavior where the person is simply not following court rules, is out of control and the judge has to control them in order to keep the court proceedings going in a respective legal manner.
Another areas where I’ve seen is with witnesses. If witnesses fail to follow the rules, won’t testify, won’t listen to what the judge is telling them, if they fail to obey the judge’s order or commands or fail to show up, there’s a number of different ways that a witness can be held in contempt and prosecuted pursuant to Penal Code Section 166. A lot of time people don’t want to testify. They claim they want to plead their Fifth Amendment rights, but the reality is they don’t have Fifth Amendment rights. To have Fifth Amendment rights you’re going to have to say something that might incriminate yourself, and if you’re just saying you don’t want to testify, then there’s really nothing that can cause you to incriminate yourself, then the judge can say, hey, I’m going to hold you in contempt of court. You need to answer the questions. You’re in a courtroom. You’ve been asked a direct question and you need to answer it, and if you don’t answer it, I’m going to hold you in contempt of court.
Another area where I see people getting held I contempt is attorneys. Sometimes attorneys go too far. They’re crazy. They say a bunch of stuff. They won’t’ listen to the court. They won’t follow the court’s instructions. They do something that is impermissible. They lie. Those attorneys can be held in contempt. They can be filed. They can even be jailed. If they’re refusing to cooperate with the criminal process and they’re not conducting themselves as proper attorneys, then an attorney can even be held in contempt. Obviously, this is very serious. The state Bar can become involved. So, a judge has a lot of power to hold somebody in contempt pursuant to Penal Code Section 166 depending on the circumstances. Sometimes a judge can go too far and claim that somebody is doing something wrong and all the attorney is doing is trying to defend their client to the bests of their ability based on the circumstances that they find them in.
Finally, where I’ve seen contempt has to do with court orders. The court orders somebody do something, and that person says no, I’m not doing it, or that person just completely ignores the judge. Well, if someone is not cooperating with an official order, and it’s a lawful order, so that’s an angle there – if it’s not a lawful order then you don’t have to comply with it, but if it’s a lawful order and the judge is within their prevue and the person is ignoring them and not obeying that court order, then that person can be held in contempt, can be fined or can be jailed. The judge has a lot of authority when it comes to people not doing what they’re supposed to, not listening to the court and not observing the court’s authority in our American justice system.
So, if you’re charged with contempt, what we do is we have you come in, we sit down, we go over everything. Sometimes I’ll pull the record. I can call the court reporter and get – if there’s a record of whatever happened – and then I can really assess whether or not this is appropriate for contempt proceedings or whether there’s some sort of a defense to it or if something can be worked out obviously to preserve your record and reputation and keep you out of custody.
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