Contempt in Court – What Does it Mean and What Are the Potential Consequences?

Almost everyone, at some point or another, has heard the phrase “contempt in court.” Such a phrase undoubtedly brings up images of an angry judge waiving his or her finger at a forlorn defendant as that angry judge is finding that person in contempt. However, what exactly does it mean to find someone in contempt and what exactly are the potential consequences for being found “in contempt” in California?

California Penal Code Section 166 – Contempt in Court

California Penal Code section 166 is a misdemeanor. California Penal Code section 166 defines “contempt in court” as “(1) Disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior committed during the sitting of a court of justice, in the immediate view and presence of the court, and directly tending to interrupt its proceedings or to impair the respect due to its authority.”

The model jury instruction, CALCRIM No. 2700, states in pertinent part that:

“To prove that the defendant is guilty of this crime, the People must prove that:

  1. A court [lawfully] issued a written order that the defendant ___________ <insert description of order>;
  2. The defendant knew about the court order and its contents;
  3. The defendant had the ability to follow the court order;


  1. The defendant willfully violated the court order.

Someone commits an act willfully when he or she does it willingly or on purpose.”

Accordingly, a defendant can only be found guilty if he or she is shown to have committed each and every one of the above-listed elements. If the defendant was unaware of the court order, the defendant cannot be found guilty of contempt in court. If the defendant knew about the order but did not willfully violate the order, then the defendant cannot be found guilty of contempt in court. Again, each and every element must be proven for the defendant to be found guilty of contempt in court. A person’s lack of knowledge and/or willfulness to disobey a court order is a legitimate defense.

Potential Punishment for Violation of California Penal Code Section 166 – Contempt in Court

Contempt in court, in violation of California Penal Code section 166, is a misdemeanor. The potential custody or jail time for said misdemeanor is 0 to 180 days. Whether a judge would impose jail time for violation of this misdemeanor depends on a variety of factors and the nature and circumstances surrounding the defendant’s case. The person is also subject to a court fine and fees.

Pursuant to California Penal Code section 166(2), “If a violation … results in a physical injury, the person shall be imprisoned in a county jail for at least 48 hours, whether a fine or imprisonment is imposed, or the sentence is suspended.

If you or a family member has been charged with a felony or misdemeanor crime and is facing contempt in court, or any crime for that matter in Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, or Ventura County, it is imperative that you hire the best attorney that you can to handle these matters. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut knows how to effectively defend clients who have been accused of felony and misdemeanor theft offenses.

For more information about contempt in court or all other types of crimes, whether a felony or misdemeanor, and to schedule your free consultation, contact attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Criminal & DUI Lawyers located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.

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