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Penal code 166 PC Contempt of court in California

July 13, 2021 California Penal Code

Contempt of Court Laws in CaliforniaPenal Code 166 PC

Penal Code 166 PC, the California statute, outlines the offense of contempt of court. A person commits this crime if they take part in any behavior that disrespects to the court process. It is an offense that carries a 6-months maximum jail-term penalty.

“A person guilty of any of the following contempt of court is guilty of a crime: (1) insolent, contemptuous, or disorderly behavior committed during the sitting of a court of justice, in the immediate view and presence of the court, and directly interrupting its proceedings or to lessen the respect due to its authority.” As stated in Penal Code 166 PC.

Some Examples:

  • Being aggressive or noisy in court.
  • Declining to be sworn in as a witness during a California criminal trial.
  • Defying a court order (276.3 PC).

Best Defenses to this Charge

A defendant may challenge a finding of contempt by declaring a legal defense. Ordinary defenses include showing that:

  • Any defiance of a court order was not done willfully ,
  • There was no instance of disorderly conduct, and/or
  • The defendant is falsely accused.

Possible Sentences on Conviction

Most violations of these laws are criminal offenses as opposed to an infraction or a felony charge.

The offense is punishable by:

  • Custody in a county jail for a maximum of six months, and/or
  • A fine of $1,000 (maximum amount).

A judge can award jail time alternatively as a summary probation.

The following key questions will be answered  by the California criminal defense attorneys from Spodek Law Group in this article:

  1. When is contempt of court considered a crime?
  2. Are legal defenses available?
  3. What are the penalties for PC 166?
  4. Are there immigration consequences?
  5. Can an offense get expunged?
  6. Are there crimes similar to contempt?
  1. When is contempt of court is considered a crime?

Penal Code 166 PC outlines specific conduct that constitutes “contempt of court.” Examples of illegal conduct include:

  • Disrespectful behavior in a court proceeding (e.g. a breach of the peace / being noisy/ teasing the court clerk),
  • Willfully defying a lawful written order of the court,
  • Declining to be sworn in as a witness,
  • Declining to answer any material question, while serving as a witness, without legal exception,
  • Publishing a false report of court proceedings,
  • Willful defiance of the terms of a lawful injunction, and
  • Breach of a protective order involving:
    • Elder abuse,
    • Domestic violence, and\or
    • Adult dependent abuse.

“Willfully,” as used above, means when a person commits an act, either willingly or on purpose.

Although this statute outlines a number of criminal behaviors, the most common offense is defying a court order.

Defying a court order

For a prosecutor to convict a person of contempt of court for violating a court order, he/ she must prove the following:

  1. A judge provided a legal order,
  2. The accused was aware of the order,
  3. The accused had the ability to obey the order, yet
  4. The defendant willfully failed to obey.

As to a defendant being aware of a court order, a prosecutor must prove that:

  • The defendant was aware of the valid court order, and that
  • He/ she received a copy of the order and had the opportunity to read it.

Note:  Both adults and minors can be charged with violating a court order.

2. Are legal defenses available?

A defendant can oppose to a contempt charge with a good legal defense. The common defenses are:

  1. Falsely accused,
  2. No willful defiance of a court order, and\ or
  3. No improper conduct,

The district attorney has to prove and show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant defied PC 166.

The “No willful breach of a court order” defense

As to charges of defying a court order, note that:

  • A defendant must willfully breach an order, to be considered guilty under this section.

It is simply a defense for an accused to say that he/she did not disobey an order on purpose.

The “No evidence of disorderly conduct” defense

Recall that this statute outlines specific behaviors that constitute “disorderly conduct.” Thus:

  • A defendant can try to express his innocence by stating that his behavior did not rise to anything outlined in the statute.

The “False accusation” defense

False accusations are very likely under these laws. In addition, this is usually the case in disobeying an order matter when:

  • A relationship has worsened or at the verge of breaking, and
  • One of the parties wants to get back at the other.

Since it is a defense, the accused might say that another person unjustly blamed him.

3. What are the penalties for PC 166?

A violation of PC 166 is typically an offense.

Any criminal action to contempt of court is punishable by:

  • Custody in county jail for a maximum of six months, and/or
  • A maximum fine of $1,000.

It may be possible to do community service as an alternative of the fine.

Moreover, there are some situations that attract more serious penalties. For instance, when an accused:

  • Defies the terms of a domestic violence  protective order,
  • Defies a protective order when he has a prior stalking conviction, or
  • Owns a firearm in defiance of a court order.

In the above cases, the crime is:

  • Still charged as an offense, but
  • Can be punished by custody in jail for a maximum of one year.

Felony breach of a court order under PC 166(c) (4)

A subsequent defiance of a restraining order can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony if:

  1. The prior violation was within 7 years, and
  2. The violation involved an act of violence or a credible threat, and
  3. The restraining order was related to sexual injury of a child, domestic violence or elder\dependent abuse.

As a misdemeanor, the penalties include up to one year in jail. As a felony, penalties include either:

  • 16 months, 2 years or 3 years in state prison.


Wobblers are crimes considered as a misdemeanor or a felony.

4. Are there immigration consequences?

A conviction under 166 PC will generally not have any negative immigration consequences.

Some California crimes may lead to a non-citizen defendant being either:

  • Marked as prohibited, or
  • Deported

Examples include:

  • Aggravated felonies, and
  • Crimes involving moral evils.

However, these types of crimes are not contempt violations.

5. Can an offense get expunged?

An offense can get an expunged if convicted of contempt of court, and if he/she successfully completes:

  • His/her jail term, or
  • Each condition of probation.

Note: An expungement gets rid of many of the limitations associated with a conviction.

6. Are there crimes similar to contempt?

The three crimes below are connected to contempt cases, these are:

  1. Failure to appear – CALIFORNIA PC 1320,
  2. Violating a restraining order – CALIFORNIA PC 273.6, and
  3. Stalking – CALIFORNIA PC 646.9.

Contact Spodek Law Group today for help with your California Contempt of court charge. 



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