You may be held in contempt of court if you disrupt the operation of a court, or if you fail to obey a court order. Contempt of court in the presence of the judge is sometimes punished immediately, but contempt is usually handled in a separate hearing, where I can present an effective defense on your behalf.
Contempt proceedings often come up in the context of a peace order or protective order that was allegedly violated, but they can occur in other sorts of cases as well.
Criminal and Civil Contempt
In Maryland, there are two related types of contempt of court, criminal contempt and civil contempt. It is not unusual for a civil contempt proceeding to become a criminal contempt proceeding.
Criminal contempt of court charges are meant to be punitive, and may be punished by any sentence that is not cruel or unusual. They are meant to punish you for a previous action, or a previous failure to act as ordered. The charges are prosecuted by the State’s Attorney, and are handled in much the same way as any other criminal charge. Proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt, and you have the same rights as any other criminal defendant. It is not unusual for a criminal contempt case to start with a referral made by a judge from a civil contempt hearing.
Unlike criminal contempt of court, civil contempt of court is not supposed to be punitive, even though it often can be. Instead, it is meant to make a person capable of complying with an order of the court comply with that order immediately. As soon as a person held in civil contempt of court does what the court ordered, the contempt is purged, and the person must be released. It is unlawful to imprison someone for civil contempt of court in Maryland if they do not have the present ability to purge the contempt by complying with the court order. Unfortunately, without an effective attorney present, it can happen anyway.
It is important to have an effective lawyer at civil contempt proceedings to minimize your chance of ending up in jail. Without a good lawyer, the court may believe that you can comply with the court order, when you actually cannot. Also, contempt hearings in civil cases are often wrongly treated like criminal contempt proceedings by judges. While this is not lawful, without a knowledgeable lawyer that can point out exactly how and why it is unlawful, it can happen anyway. Contempt proceedings in a civil case can also lead to the judge referring you for prosecution for criminal contempt.
Courts and attorneys are sometimes unfamiliar with the law of contempt, and confuse civil and criminal contempt proceedings. Rules meant to protect your rights and freedom may not be followed if you do not have an attorney present. As an attorney with expertise in this area, I can protect your rights in these situations.
If you have an upcoming criminal or civil contempt of court proceeding in Maryland, your freedom is too important to be left to chance. Call (301) 556-8709 today.