Did You Know:…Contempt of Court

Today (02/05/13), the Inquisitr (www.inquisitr.com) reported via NBC Miami that a Miami teen (18 yrs old), who was arrested for possession of Xanax and who was standing in front of the Judge for sentencing, had the following exchange with the Judge:
[Court inquires as to the teen’s financial status for purposes of setting bond]
Teen:  laughs at the Courts’ inquiry…
Court: “It’s not a joke…we’re not in a club right now….be serious about it.”
…after a few more exchanges, the Judge set bond at $5,000.
Teen:  (sarcastically and while exiting)  “Adios!”
Court: Come back here…[bond is now set at] $10,000.
Teen: (raising her middle finger at the Judge) told the Judge to “f**k himself”
Courts response?….The court found her in criminal contempt of court and ordered her to spend 30 days in prison for her contemptuous act.

In Wisconsin, sec. 785.01(1) defines “contempt of court” as “intentional: (a) Misconduct in the presence of the court which interferes with a court proceeding or with the administration of justice, or which impairs the respect due the court; (b) Disobedience, resistance or obstruction of the authority, process or order of the court; (bm) Violation of any provision of s. 767.117(1) [See my Feb. 2, 2013 Blog post] regarding s. 767.117(1) concerning Prohibited Acts During Pendency of (Divorce) Action]; (c) Refusal as a witness to appear, be sworn or answer a question; or (d) Refusal to produce a record, document or other object.”  Sec. 785.01(2) defines “Punitive sanction” as “a sanction imposed to punish a past contempt of court for the purpose of upholding the authority of the court,” while sec. 785.01(3) defines “Remedial sanction” as “a sanction imposed for the purpose of terminating a continuing contempt of court.”  Further, sec. 785.02 gives “A court of record” the power to “impose a remedial or punitive sanction for contempt of court.”

If the above exchange had happened in Wisconsin, Sec. 785.03(2), states that “The judge presiding in an action or proceeding may impose a punitive sanction upon a person who commits a contempt of court (see definition) in the actual presence of the court.  The judge shall impose the punitive sanction immediately after the contempt of court and only for the purpose of preserving order in the court and protecting the authority and dignity of the court.”

It should go without saying – that bringing intentional disrespect (as this young lady did) into the courtroom presided over by any judge or court commissioner is contemptuous by its very nature and must be avoided, and that openly and intentionally disrespecting, insulting, disobeying, resisting or obstructing any judge or court commissioner is strictly unacceptable – but these statutes reinforce the absolute necessity of maintaining one’s composure while in court.  Contemptuous actions will not only bring either remedial or punitive sanctions upon the person committing the contempt of court (depending on the circumstance) it will most likely and immediately lead to a loss of credibility of that person in the courtroom at that time and in the future.  If you have questions concerning this topic, including the difference between remedial and punitive sanctions, please contact me at 715-365-9008.