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PC 166 Attorney

In legal dramas and procedurals, a flurry of yelling and screaming in the courthouse leads the judge to yell about maintaining order and declaring the guilty party in contempt of the court. In California, contempt of court is covered in Penal Code 166, which outlines what constitutes the crime and when the state can seek to prosecute the offenders.

Contempt of court is not one of the most severe charges you can find yourself facing, but it's still a very serious matter. If you find yourself facing a contempt of court charge by violating Penal Code 166, you should seek legal representation. If you are already serving a sentence for committing contempt of court, you can hire an appeals attorney to try to get back your freedom.

What Is PC 166 and Contempt of Court?

Contempt of court is a common concept in the legal system, and it’s one of the most well-known legal terms to laypeople. However, most people don’t actually understand what constitutes contempt of court and what the charge even represents.

Contempt of court refers to an individual doing something against the court’s wishes. When we see it on TV and in movies, it typically involves someone being noisy or disturbing the proceedings while the court is in session. This is a very common aspect of contempt of court, but PC 166 covers other facets of the crime.

Disrupting Court Proceedings as an Audience Member

If you are visiting the court and sitting in the audience, you must remain quiet and respectful of all the judge’s rules at all times. If you choose to taunt members of the court or make a loud outburst, the judge may issue a warning or ask the bailiff to escort you out. Law enforcement can then file a charge of contempt of court for acting in a disruptive and disrespectful manner.

False Witness Testimony and Failure to Appear or Testify

Witnesses also have a duty when in court to tell the truth and answer questions as well as they can. If a witness refuses to answer a question, they may be charged with contempt of court. A witness may also end up dealing with a contempt of court charge if they refuse to swear in and testify when the court issues a subpoena.

There are a few legal reasons that witnesses can use to excuse themselves from answering questions, such as avoiding self-incrimination. However, if the witness has no legal reason to refuse, they must answer all questions that attorneys ask during a trial.

Publishing False Statements About the Day’s Court Proceedings

A judge may also issue an arrest warrant for contempt of court if someone publishes false information about the court proceedings for the day. This can range from a report in the newspaper to a post online.

What Are Violations of Court Orders?

The other major component that makes up contempt of court charges is violation of court orders.

Judges have the legal power to issue court orders that individuals must follow under penalty of arrest and prosecution. Court orders often describe the relationship between two people. Some of the most common court orders involve one party remaining far away from another to prevent them from bothering them anymore.

Violations of court orders are illegal and will lead to the offender likely facing a charge for breaking any applicable law, such as stalking or violating a restraining order. However, these individuals will also be facing a contempt of court charge. They showed a lack of respect for the court by refusing to follow an official directive.

Does Intent Matter in a Contempt of Court Conviction?

As with many crimes, determining intent is crucial when making the case for contempt of court. A person must show a willful disregard for the court and any rules or orders it puts in place. Breaking the rules through an accident may not be enough for the court to rule you in contempt. Two examples can help illustrate the difference.

In one case, the state is accusing a man of beating up his friend and charges him with assault and battery. The judge presiding over the case decides to issue a restraining order to avoid any future conflict. This means that both parties need to stay away from each other until the trial is over and the judge lifts the order.

Later, the friend contacts the accused and says that he wants to make up and see him again. They meet together at a coffee shop to hash things out, but the police see them together and arrest the accused for breaking the court order. The accused would be in contempt of court in this scenario, because he knowingly disobeyed a court order, even though the other party invited him to the outing.

Using the same setup, the accused man and the victim run into each other at the grocery store as a total coincidence. This situation is not a violation of the court order because the accused did not have any intent to meet up with the victim; it was just an accident. As such, there would be no contempt of court charges in this case.

Are There Any Legal Defenses When the State Accuses You of Being in Contempt of Court in California?

There are a few legal defenses for contempt of court, but none of them is guaranteed. Properly executing any of them requires a skilled Los Angeles attorney. The ideal defense for contempt of court is to avoid putting yourself in the situation to begin with.

You Did Not Intend to Be in Contempt of Court

As intent is crucial to proving contempt of court, you may be able to convince a judge that you had no desire to break the law. If you happen to accidentally violate a court order, you may be able to avoid a contempt of court charge.

Courts and judges are understandably a bit wary of accepting the accident excuse every time someone happens to show up at the same place as a person they have a restraining order against. You’ll be under plenty of scrutiny if you try to use this defense, as the court will want to take a thorough look at the circumstances to ensure that it was just an accident.

You Were Not Actually in Contempt of Court

You can also argue to the judge that you did not commit any of the disorderly conduct that the court is accusing you of. Perhaps the judge was too easily provoked when ordering you in contempt, and you can showcase how you were within the legal bounds of decorum in the court. Contempt of court is a somewhat subjective charge, so you may be granted some leeway if your violation was minor.

You Were Falsely Accused

Finally, you could argue that you’re facing a false accusation. If another party wants to get payback for something you did, they may try to lie to the court and say that you violated an order. Also, a witness could be mistaken in identifying you, as witness identifications are not always accurate. In either case, you can argue that you didn’t commit the crime or violate the court order and that the court has picked the wrong person.

No matter which legal defense you go with, you’ll want to talk it over with your Los Angeles defense attorney to ensure that you have a chance of avoiding a conviction by using it.

What Penalties Can You Face for Violating PC 166?

Contempt of court is a misdemeanor in California, which means that the penalties and the long-term ramifications are not as major as someone dealing with a felony. However, this does not mean that you can ignore a contempt of court charge. These charges can follow someone for the rest of their lives and also have immediate consequences.

The typical sentencing guidelines for a contempt of court charge is up to six months of jail time in a county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. You won’t serve any time in a state prison for a misdemeanor.

However, one aspect of a violation of PC 166 and contempt of court charge is that there are a few aggravating circumstances that can increase your prison time. Most of these aggravating circumstances come from violating court orders and not from any disruptive outbursts in court.

If a judge has placed a court order on you to avoid seeing someone due to a charge of domestic violence and you break it, you will likely be facing harsher penalties. The court will also look to institute harsher penalties for someone violating a court order regarding possession of a gun.

Recently, California moved to review how harshly it treats weapons when increasing sentences in Assembly Bill 1509. Penalties for using a firearm during the crime may not be as much as in years prior.

In these scenarios with aggravating circumstances, judges often try to increase the prison time to one year instead of six months. The crime will still be a misdemeanor, but increased jail time is the most dire consequence of having aggravating circumstances

Possibility for a Felony Charge

There are a few extreme scenarios where the court may attempt to charge someone with a felony for violating a court order. These are somewhat rare and require the defendant to have a prior record.

If the court finds that the defendant violated a second restraining order, they may decide to charge the accused with a felony instead of a misdemeanor. The court will look at a few crucial aspects to see if it should be a felony, including:

  • Time between the incidents: The court generally will not consider a previous violation if it happened more than seven years ago. Any violations that are more recent may be considered when deciding whether to charge the offense as a felony or a misdemeanor.
  • Details of the restraining order: The court will take violations of a restraining order for sexual assault, domestic violence, or child abuse more seriously than others when considering the punishment.
  • Violence: If the defendant allegedly threatened violence or committed a violent act, this will likely lead to the judge looking at a felony charge for the crime.

If the court decides to pursue the crime as a felony and finds the defendant guilty, they can face up to three years in a state prison for the violation.

Can an Attorney Help Me Get a Conviction for Contempt of Court Expunged?

If you have a misdemeanor for contempt of court on your record, you may want to consider getting it expunged. While a misdemeanor will not affect you as much as a felony would, it still isn’t something that you want on your permanent record.

Misdemeanors may show up on your permanent criminal record, and prospective employers will likely be able to see it if they conduct a criminal background check on you. Getting the charge expunged will remove it from public view and allow you to avoid some of the long-term consequences of breaking the law.

Getting an expungement is only sometimes a simple process, and it will be up to a judge to determine if you should qualify. You’ll need to follow the application process and have a hearing in front of a judge to state your case. It is highly recommended that you have an attorney present if you plan on filing for an expungement.

Before you can consider applying for an expungement, you’ll have to complete your sentence, whatever it might be. Once you finish any jail time or probation, you will be able to apply for an expungement.

What Are Some Related Penal Code Violations?

Violations of PC 166 for contempt of court often accompany other crimes. In many cases, law enforcement will charge someone with additional crimes, along with a contempt of court charge. Listed are a few common penal codes that can be related to PC 166.

PC 273.6 - Restraining Order Violations

Restraining orders are some of the most frequent court orders judges hand down. Consequently, they are also some of the most frequently broken. Violating a restraining order is a severe crime that carries severe penalties.

Violation of PC 273.6 is a wobbler offense. A wobbler crime in California means that the court may choose to charge it as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances of the crime.

In the misdemeanor version of the crime, a judge may sentence a guilty person to one year in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. The felony version of the sentence will net a person a maximum prison sentence of up to three years and $10,000 in fines. A felony sentence will not allow the person to serve their time in county jail, and they have to go to a state correctional facility.

PC 1320 - Failure to Appear

Lawmakers give the court the power to compel people to show up to court when it summons them. This can be because the summoned party is on trial for a crime or because they must serve a purpose in the trial, such as testifying or serving on the jury. If the court summons you and you do not respond, you’ll be facing charges of contempt of court and failure to appear.

For someone who does not post bail or is not allowed to put up bail to get released before the trial, it is nearly impossible for them to miss their day in court. However, those who post bail are often allowed to live their lives as normal, with a few exceptions. This freedom makes it harder to ensure that they show up for a court date, and any failure to do so without a reason will likely lead to a charge of failure to appear.

If you are a defendant, failure to appear is a wobbler crime that is charged at the same level as the original crime you are being tried for. If you were on trial for a misdemeanor and didn’t show up for court, your charge for violating PC 1320 will be a misdemeanor as well. If you don’t show up for a felony trial, you risk adding a second felony to your charges.

A misdemeanor for failure to appear will lead to a sentence with a maximum incarceration time of six months in the county jail and a fine of up to $1,000. A felony conviction is a bit more complicated, with two possibilities for prison time. The judge may opt for one year in county jail or up to three in a state prison. You also risk a fine of up to $5,000.

PC 646.9 - Stalking

Stalking can take place over the phone or in person, and the charge is already serious enough alone. If the stalking is part of a violation of a court order, the penalties can get even more severe.

Stalking occurs whenever someone harasses and follows another person to the point where the followed person fears for their safety. Someone can commit stalking by repeatedly calling a person, sending threatening messages, or following them when in public.

Stalking is a wobbler offense that depends on the seriousness of the case and if the accused has any prior record of stalking. No matter if the prosecutor decides to charge it as a misdemeanor or felony, the changes are severe either way.

For the misdemeanor version of the crime, the court may order you to spend up to a year in the county jail and pay a fine. The judge may also attach probation to your sentence and court-mandated classes.

For a felony, you could be looking at up to five years in a state correctional facility.

Should I Hire an Attorney If the State Charges Me With Contempt of Court?

Yes. While a charge of contempt of court is not devastating for most people, it is still a charge worth taking seriously. Whenever you are at risk of jail time, we recommend getting in contact with a Los Angeles defense attorney. They can handle your case and mount a legal defense to help you avoid a sentence or serve a reduced amount of jail time.

Contempt of court is a somewhat technical charge, and the defenses for it are difficult to demonstrate. Your attorney likely has experience handling similar cases. They can use this knowledge to pick the right defense for your case and give you a better chance of getting an acceptable verdict.

Many prosecuting attorneys do not want to tie up valuable court resources on a protracted battle over something like contempt of court. The prosecutor may offer a plea deal to you so they can expedite the case. Your attorney can go over the deal and give you an honest opinion on whether it is worth taking.

Honesty is what makes a lawyer so valuable when dealing with criminal prosecution. Your attorney won’t have the same emotional ties to the case as you do and can give you an objective view of your chances in court and the proper way to proceed. This objectivity can allow you to pick a path that gives you a better chance of success.

Your lawyer also has plenty of knowledge about any applicable laws or relevant cases that may help your legal defense.

Barhoma Law: Experienced Defense and Appeals Law Firm

Although people often see depictions of contempt of court in movies about lawyers, the charge is something to take seriously and avoid if possible. Contempt of court charges for violating Penal Code 166 can lead to a long stay in court or an unwanted probation sentence. If you’re facing any sort of criminal charge, you should speak with a Los Angeles defense attorney and law firm who can take your case.

At Barhoma Law, we seek to treat our clients with empathy and skillfully assist them with their legal troubles. Contact us today for a consultation to see how we can help you with your case.

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