What is Criminal Contempt of Court in Texas?
Getting on the bad side of a judge usually doesn’t turn out very well. Criminal contempt of court charges in Texas can come swiftly and bring harsh penalties to anyone in a courtroom or anyone connected to a case who violates a judge’s rules or orders.
In Texas, all judges have the authority to determine the type of conduct allowed in their courtroom. If someone disobeys or disrespects a judge or violates their orders, they can be found in criminal contempt of court. These rules apply to everyone in a courtroom or connected to the case, including attorneys, defendants, jurors, staff, media members, and spectators.
Criminal contempt can also arise from outside the courtroom. For example, if a judge learns an attorney had inappropriate conversations with a juror outside the courtroom that could potentially lead to criminal contempt. Likewise, if a juror disobeyed a judge’s instructions after court had concluded for the day, that could also lead to criminal contempt.
Criminal contempt is punitive because the judge seeks to punish a violation. The consequences are unconditional by the judge, so you cannot escape them by agreeing to comply from that moment forward.
If you’ve been accused of criminal contempt of court in Tarrant County or the surrounding area, you are facing a fine and possible jail time. That’s why it’s important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The Varghese Summersett defense team can help.
What Does Texas law Consider to be Contempt of Court?
Texas judges can find criminal contempt of court as any action that is disrespectful to the court or any act that obstructs the proper administration of justice.
The Texas Supreme Court defined contempt as “disobedience to or disrespect of a court by acting in opposition to its authority” in Ex parte Chambers, 898 S.W.2d 257, 259 (1995).
What are the Punishments for Contempt of Court in Texas?
Under Texas Government Code Section 21.002, criminal contempt of court is punishable by a maximum $500 fine or six months in county jail, or a combination of both. The potential for jail time makes it imperative to consult with a contempt of court lawyer as soon as possible.
In a justice or municipal court, a contempt fine is punishable by a maximum of $100 or three days in jail, or a combination of both.
Texas law limits criminal contempt punishment to 18 months if a person is held in contempt multiple times stemming from the same matter.
What are the Types of Criminal Contempt of Court in Texas?
A judge may determine whether the alleged criminal contempt is direct or indirect, also referred to as constructive contempt.
Direct contempt: Behavior in the presence of the court that the judge finds disrespectful can be considered contempt and grounds for punishment. The judge hands out this type of contempt order, and the behavior typically occurs within the courtroom and is directly observed by the judge.
Indirect contempt: This is often referred to as “constructive contempt.” This occurs when someone violates a court order outside of the court, such as someone involved in the case improperly talking with a juror about the case or an attorney refusing to turn over subpoenaed evidence.
Examples of direct criminal contempt of court in Texas
- Failing to stand when a judge enters the courtroom
- Lying on the stand
- Cursing in the courtroom
- Opposing lawyers shouting at each other or a party in the case
- Using gestures or threats to intimidate other parties in the case
- Defiantly overstepping your bounds with the judge
- Showing up to court legally intoxicated
Examples of indirect criminal contempt of court in Texas
- Lying in a deposition
- Violating a court order
- Withholding evidence
- Attempting to bribe an attorney or juror
- Improper communication with jurors
- Refusing to turn over subpoenaed evidence
- Failing to appear for a hearing or trial
- Trying to obstruct court actions outside of court
How Is Someone Found in Contempt of Court in Texas?
Generally, someone who commits direct contempt is found by the judge to be in contempt at that moment, and the judge may order a punishment immediately or in short order unless an officer of the court commits the offense. In a direct contempt proceeding, a trial court may hold a proceeding without giving the violator notice or a hearing.
With indirect contempt, the District Attorney’s Office can purse criminal contempt charges. In that case, a person charged with criminal contempt usually receives the constitutional rights available to criminal defendants, including the right to an attorney and a jury trial.
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Contempt of Court
The court’s authority to regulate trials and, accordingly, to punish for contempt is broad and unconditional, as seen in Ex parte Jones, 331 S.W.2d 202 (Tex.Cr.App.1960). However, the power to punish for contempt should only be exercised with caution, and contempt is not to be presumed.
On the contrary, contempt is presumed not to exist. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has referred to contempt as “strong medicine” that should only be used as a last resort.
Criminal Contempt of Court Cases in North Texas
- In 2021, a 61-year-old Mansfield man pleaded guilty to criminal contempt and was sentenced to six months in federal prison.
- In 2020, an investigative journalist in Houston was found guilty of direct criminal contempt and sentenced to three days in jail and a $500 fine.
- In 2019, a Dallas defense attorney was charged with criminal contempt and sent to jail after “repeated outbursts” during a trial. He was sentenced to 14 days in jail and a $500 fine.
- In 2017, an Austin defense attorney was found guilty of five contempt of court charges he had with the judge during a trial. He was sentenced to six months in jail after a two-day trial.
Facing a Criminal Contempt of Court Charge in Tarrant County? Call us.
Accusations of criminal contempt of court cases should be taken seriously. The Varghese Summersett defense team has more than five decades of combined results in North Texas. We provide unparalleled legal defense, will work tirelessly, and fight for the most favorable outcome. For a free consultation, call us at 817-203-2220.