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Penal code 166 Contempt of Court Laws in California

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 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.” Penal Code 166 PC.

Strong Legal Defenses

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

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

Possible Sentences

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 misdemeanor (or summary) probation.

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

  1. When is “contempt of court” considered a crime?

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

  • exhibiting 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,
  • the willful defiance of the terms of a lawful injunction, and
  • breach of a protective order involving:

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

Although this statute outlines several 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 court issued a legal order,
  2. The accused was aware of the order,
  3. The accused could obey the order, yet
  4. The defendant willfully failed to obey.

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

  • The defendant was aware of the valid court order, and that
  • He/ she was issued 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 there legal defenses available to Penal Code 166?

A defendant can challenge a contempt charge with a proper legal defense. 

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 they disobeyed an order on purpose.

Example: A superior court issues a lawful order directing Pete and Andrea (two co-workers) not to interact with one another. One evening Pete accidentally comes into contact with Andrea at a restaurant.

Here, none of the two parties are guilty of contempt because there was no willful contact.

The “No evidence of disorderly conduct” Defense

Recall that this statute outlines specific behaviors that constitute “disorderly conduct.” Thus, a defendant can express his innocence by stating that his behavior did not rise to anything outlined in the statute.

The “Falsely Accused “ 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 a misdemeanor.

Any criminal action to contempt of court is punishable by incarceration 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 to the fine.

Moreover, some situations 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
  • Illegally owns a firearm.

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)

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 either16 months, 2 years, or 3 years in state prison.

Note:

Wobblers are crimes considered as a misdemeanor or a felony.

4. Can a convict get this crime expunged?

A person can get an expungement if convicted of contempt of court, and if he/she completes his or her jail term, or every condition of probation.

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

5. Are there crimes associated to contempt that a defendant could be charged with?

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

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

Contact us for a free consultation, legal help, and legal advice.

For additional guidance or to discuss your case and due process rights with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Spodek Law Group.

Our criminal defense and DUI attorneys serve clients throughout California. A discussion on payment plans and discount rates can be scheduled if you opt to create an attorney-client relationship.


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"Spodek Law Group have offered me excellent support and advice thru a very difficult time. I feel I've dealt with someone who truly cares and wants the best outcome for you and yours. I'm extremely grateful for all the help Spodek Law Group has offered me. I can't recommend them..."

David Bruce

"Spodek Law Group was incredibly professional and has given me the best advice I could wish for. They had been helpful and empathetic to my stressful situation. Would highly recommend Spodek Law Group to anyone I meet."

Rowlin Garcia

"Best service I ever had. Todd is absolutely class personified. You are in the safest hands with spodek. They have their clients interest in mind."

Francis Anim
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