Unlike civil contempt, the purpose of criminal contempt is to punish a past failure to comply with a court order and to discourage any further noncompliance. Criminal contempt can also be used to punish someone for being disrespectful to the court.
North Carolina Law provides that criminal contempt may be either direct or indirect. Direct criminal contempt occurs in the court’s presence, i.e., in front of a judge or in/near a courtroom. This is common when someone is yelling at or interrupting the judge or threatening another party while in court. Indirect contempt occurs outside the presence of the court.
A person who commits criminal contempt is subject to censure (i.e., condemnation/criticism), imprisonment up to 30 days, a fine of up to $500, or any combination of the three. Someone who is in contempt for failing to comply with a child support order, however, is subject to the three punishments stated above and imprisonment up to 120 days may be imposed if the sentence is suspended upon conditions related to payment of child support.
What is the Procedure for Criminal Contempt?
A party may motion for an order to show cause, as described in the our previous blog, to hold a person in criminal contempt, but the court itself must issue an order to show cause before criminal contempt may be considered.