Contempt of court is no joke in New York. In this state, a conviction for criminal contempt can put you in jail for a year or more. Anyone who’s accused of criminal contempt on Long Island or in New York City must be represented by the right Nassau County criminal defense attorney.
The power to hold the disobedient in contempt is central to the operation and integrity of any court. A court which lacks the power to coerce the obedience of its orders or to punish the disobedience of those orders would not be an effective court.
What constitutes criminal contempt in New York courts? What are the various criminal contempt charges? What are the penalties for convictions on those charges? And what will a Long Island criminal defense lawyer do on your behalf to defend you against a criminal contempt charge?
What Are New York’s Criminal Contempt Charges?
If you keep reading, you will learn the answers to all of these questions, and you will also learn more about the rights of defendants who are facing criminal contempt charges in this state. There are three different criminal contempt charges in New York:
- Second-degree criminal contempt, a Class A misdemeanor
- First-degree criminal contempt, a Class E felony
- Aggravated criminal contempt, a Class D felony
In 2018, more than 6,200 criminal contempt cases were arraigned in the New York City criminal courts. Of those cases, 4,370 (69 percent) involved an allegation of domestic violence.
What Constitutes Criminal Contempt in New York?
There are two types of contempt of court: civil contempt and criminal contempt. A family law case may involve civil contempt, for example, if one party fails to meet a court-ordered obligation such as making child support payments.
Criminal contempt, on the other hand, usually involves direct interference with the judicial process. An act of civil contempt is usually a violation of one party’s rights, but criminal contempt of court violates the general public’s rights, as a criminal court represents “the people.”
Judges use civil contempt to force someone into compliance with a court order that the person has violated. When the person complies with the court, the civil contempt charge is then dropped.
However, criminal contempt charges are punitive, so someone who’s been convicted for criminal contempt can’t reverse the conviction to secure his or her own release from custody simply by deciding to comply with the court.
What Constitutes Second-Degree Criminal Contempt?
Several types of criminal charges are aimed at protecting the judicial process from undue influence, intimidation, disregard, or interference.
Actions that are considered disrespectful or disobedient to the court may constitute second-degree criminal contempt, including:
- conduct that interrupts a court’s proceedings
- publishing false details about a court proceeding
- refusal to be sworn in as a witness
- refusal to answer questions after becoming a sworn-in witness
- refusal to obey a court order
A charge of second-degree criminal contempt may be penalized upon conviction with up to 364 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
What Constitutes First-Degree and Aggravated Criminal Contempt?
Criminal contempt in the first degree usually involves violating an order of protection. A charge of first-degree criminal contempt may be penalized upon conviction with up to four years in prison. You may be prosecuted for first-degree criminal contempt if you:
- surveil, follow, or attempt to communicate with the person protected by the court order
- display a deadly weapon to that person
- touch or attempt to contact that person physically
- put that person in fear of injury or death
- damage or destroy property belonging to that person
Aggravated criminal contempt happens when you actually injure someone who is protected by a court order or if you have a prior criminal contempt conviction within the last five years. You could serve up to seven years in prison for an aggravated criminal contempt conviction.
What Should You Know About Orders of Protection?
If you are named in an order of protection by someone who is seeking protection from you, educate yourself about protection orders. Ask your Nassau County criminal defense attorney to explain the court order’s terms and conditions so that you do not violate it unintentionally.
Even if the person who requested the protection order contacts or attempts to contact you, you must not make any response. Under an order of protection in New York, as long as that order is in effect, you could be placed under arrest even for returning a telephone call from that person.
An order of protection must be taken seriously. If a protection order in New York requires “no contact whatsoever” with the protected party, and you make contact, you will probably be charged with criminal contempt in the first degree.
If you are charged with criminal contempt, you have the same rights as any defendant who is charged with any crime: the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney. Exercise your rights. Remember that anything you say to the police can be used against you.
Can Criminal Contempt Be Charged in a Federal Court?
Of course, a prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed criminal contempt in order to convict you of the charge. Your own Long Island criminal defense lawyer will aggressively protect your rights and will use every appropriate legal tool in your defense.
In addition to the law in New York, a federal criminal contempt statute allows federal courts to penalize behavior that obstructs their administration of justice. The law specifies that resistance or disobedience to a federal court order is considered criminal contempt at the federal level.
How Will a Defense Attorney Help You?
If you are accused of criminal contempt of court at either the federal or state level, you must contact a New York criminal defense attorney at once to retain reliable defense representation. Your lawyer will review the allegation and develop an effective defense strategy on your behalf.
If a prosecutor can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you’re guilty of criminal contempt – for example, you made contact with someone in front of witnesses in violation of a protection order’s “do not contact” provision – your attorney will seek reduced or alternative sentencing.
The penalties are harsh for criminal contempt convictions, but without those penalties, the administration of justice would be impaired – or impossible. Those harsh penalties are also why you must be defended by the right attorney if you’re charged with criminal contempt in New York.