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CONTEMPT OF COURT Any willful disobedience to, or disregard of, a court order or any misconduct in the presence of a court; action that interferes with a judge's ability to administer justice or that insults the dignity of the court; punishable by fine or imprisonment or both. There are both civil and criminal contempts; the distinction is often unclear.

Contempt Of Court - Civil Or Criminal A judge who feels someone is improperly challenging or ignoring the court's authority has the power to declare the defiant person (called the contemnor) in contempt of court. There are two types of contempt, criminal and civil. Criminal contempt occurs when the contemnor actually interferes with the ability of the court to function properly - for example, by yelling at the judge. This is also called direct contempt because it occurs directly in front of the judge. A criminal contemnor may be fined, jailed or both as punishment for his act.

Civil contempt occurs when the contemnor willfully disobeys a court order. This is also called indirect contempt because it occurs outside the judge's immediate realm and evidence must be presented to the judge to prove the contempt. A civil contemnor, too, may be fined, jailed or both. The fine or jailing is meant to coerce the contemnor into obeying the court, not to punish him, and the contemnor will be released from jail just as soon as he complies with the court order. In family law, civil contempt is one way a court enforces alimony, child support, custody and visitation orders which have been violated.

However, many courts have realized that, at least regarding various procedural matters such as appointment of counsel, the distinction between civil and criminal contempt is often blurred and uncertain.

A Willful Disregard Or Disobedience Of A Public Authority.

By the Constitution of the United States, each house of congress may determine the rules of its proceeding's, punish its members for disorderly behaviour and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member. The same provision is substantially contained in the constitutions of the several states.

The power to make rules carries that of enforcing them, and to attach persons who violate them and punish them for contempts. This power of punishing for contempts is confined to punishment during the session of the legislature and cannot extend beyond it, and it seems this power cannot be exerted beyond imprisonment.

Courts of justice have an inherent power to punish all persons for contempt of their rules and orders, for disobedience of their process, and for disturbing them in their proceedings.

In some states, as in Pennsylvania, the power to punish for contempts is restricted to offences committed by the officers of the court, or in its presence, or in disobedience of its mandates, orders, or rules; but no one is guilty of a contempt for any publication made or act done out of court which is not in violation of such lawful rules or orders, or disobedience of its process. Similar provisions, limiting the power of the courts of the United States to punish for contempts, are incorporated in 28 U.S.C.

When a person is in prison for a contempt, it has been decided in New York that he cannot be discharged by another judge when brought before him on a habeas corpus; and it belongs exclusively to the court offended to judge of contempts and what amounts to them; and no other court or judge can, or ought to undertake in a collateral way, to question or review an adjudication of a contempt made by another competent jurisdiction.

This way be considered as the established doctrine equally in England as in this country.


Definitions. The definitions in this section apply throughout this chapter:

     (1) "Contempt of court" means intentional:

     (a) Disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent behavior toward the judge while holding the court, tending to impair its authority, or to interrupt the due course of a trial or other judicial proceedings;

     (b) Disobedience of any lawful judgment, decree, order, or process of the court;

     (c) Refusal as a witness to appear, be sworn, or, without lawful authority, to answer a question; or

     (d) Refusal, without lawful authority, to produce a record, document, or other object.

     (2) "Punitive sanction" means a sanction imposed to punish a past contempt of court for the purpose of upholding the authority of the court.

     (3) "Remedial sanction" means a sanction imposed for the purpose of coercing performance when the contempt consists of the omission or refusal to perform an act that is yet in the person's power to perform.

Sanctions — Who may impose. A judge or commissioner of the supreme court, the court of appeals, or the superior court, a judge of a court of limited jurisdiction, and a commissioner of a court of limited jurisdiction may impose a sanction for contempt of court under this chapter.

Remedial sanctions — Payment for losses.(1) The court may initiate a proceeding to impose a remedial sanction on its own motion or on the motion of a person aggrieved by a contempt of court in the proceeding to which the contempt is related. Except as provided in RCW 7.21.050, the court, after notice and hearing, may impose a remedial sanction authorized by this chapter.

     (2) If the court finds that the person has failed or refused to perform an act that is yet within the person's power to perform, the court may find the person in contempt of court and impose one or more of the following remedial sanctions:

     (a) Imprisonment if the contempt of court is of a type defined in RCW 7.21.010(1) (b) through (d). The imprisonment may extend only so long as it serves a coercive purpose.

     (b) A forfeiture not to exceed two thousand dollars for each day the contempt of court continues.

     (c) An order designed to ensure compliance with a prior order of the court.

     (d) Any other remedial sanction other than the sanctions specified in (a) through (c) of this subsection if the court expressly finds that those sanctions would be ineffectual to terminate a continuing contempt of court.

     (e) In cases under chapters 13.32A, 13.34, and 28A.225 RCW, commitment to juvenile detention for a period of time not to exceed seven days. This sanction may be imposed in addition to, or as an alternative to, any other remedial sanction authorized by this chapter. This remedy is specifically determined to be a remedial sanction.

     (3) The court may, in addition to the remedial sanctions set forth in subsection (2) of this section, order a person found in contempt of court to pay a party for any losses suffered by the party as a result of the contempt and any costs incurred in connection with the contempt proceeding, including reasonable attorney's fees.

     (4) If the court finds that a person under the age of eighteen years has willfully disobeyed the terms of an order issued under chapter 10.14 RCW, the court may find the person in contempt of court and may, as a sole sanction for such contempt, commit the person to juvenile detention for a period of time not to exceed seven days.

Punitive sanctions — Fines.(1) Except as otherwise provided in RCW 7.21.050, a punitive sanction for contempt of court may be imposed only pursuant to this section.

     (2)(a) An action to impose a punitive sanction for contempt of court shall be commenced by a complaint or information filed by the prosecuting attorney or city attorney charging a person with contempt of court and reciting the punitive sanction sought to be imposed.

     (b) If there is probable cause to believe that a contempt has been committed, the prosecuting attorney or city attorney may file the information or complaint on his or her own initiative or at the request of a person aggrieved by the contempt.

     (c) A request that the prosecuting attorney or the city attorney commence an action under this section may be made by a judge presiding in an action or proceeding to which a contempt relates. If required for the administration of justice, the judge making the request may appoint a special counsel to prosecute an action to impose a punitive sanction for contempt of court.

     A judge making a request pursuant to this subsection shall be disqualified from presiding at the trial.

     (d) If the alleged contempt involves disrespect to or criticism of a judge, that judge is disqualified from presiding at the trial of the contempt unless the person charged consents to the judge presiding at the trial.

     (3) The court may hold a hearing on a motion for a remedial sanction jointly with a trial on an information or complaint seeking a punitive sanction.

     (4) A punitive sanction may be imposed for past conduct that was a contempt of court even though similar present conduct is a continuing contempt of court.

     (5) If the defendant is found guilty of contempt of court under this section, the court may impose for each separate contempt of court a fine of not more than five thousand dollars or imprisonment for up to three hundred sixty-four days, or both.

Sanctions — Summary imposition — Procedure.

(1) The judge presiding in an action or proceeding may summarily impose either a remedial or punitive sanction authorized by this chapter upon a person who commits a contempt of court within the courtroom if the judge certifies that he or she saw or heard the contempt. The judge shall impose the sanctions immediately after the contempt of court or at the end of the proceeding and only for the purpose of preserving order in the court and protecting the authority and dignity of the court. The person committing the contempt of court shall be given an opportunity to speak in mitigation of the contempt unless compelling circumstances demand otherwise. The order of contempt shall recite the facts, state the sanctions imposed, and be signed by the judge and entered on the record.

(2) A court, after a finding of contempt of court in a proceeding under subsection (1) of this section may impose for each separate contempt of court a punitive sanction of a fine of not more than five hundred dollars or imprisonment for not more than thirty days, or both, or a remedial sanction set forth in RCW 7.21.030(2). A forfeiture imposed as a remedial sanction under this subsection may not exceed more than five hundred dollars for each day the contempt continues.

Administrative actions or proceedings — Petition to court for imposition of sanctions.A state administrative agency conducting an action or proceeding or a party to the action or proceeding may petition the superior court in the county in which the action or proceeding is being conducted for a remedial sanction specified in RCW 7.21.030 for conduct specified in RCW 7.21.010 in the action or proceeding.

Appellate review.A party in a proceeding or action under this chapter may seek appellate review under applicable court rules. Appellate review does not stay the proceedings in any other action, suit, or proceeding, or any judgment, decree, or order in the action, suit, or proceeding to which the contempt relates.

Severability — 1989 c 373.If any provision of this act or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the remainder of the act or the application of the provision to other persons or circumstances is not affected.

RCW 9A.20.021 Maximum sentences for crimes committed July 1, 1984, and after. (1) Felony. Unless a different maximum sentence for a classified felony is specifically established by a statute of this state, no person convicted of a classified felony shall be punished by confinement or fine exceeding the following:

     (a) For a class A felony, by confinement in a state correctional institution for a term of life imprisonment, or by a fine in an amount fixed by the court of fifty thousand dollars, or by both such confinement and fine;

     (b) For a class B felony, by confinement in a state correctional institution for a term of ten years, or by a fine in an amount fixed by the court of twenty thousand dollars, or by both such confinement and fine;

     (c) For a class C felony, by confinement in a state correctional institution for five years, or by a fine in an amount fixed by the court of ten thousand dollars, or by both such confinement and fine.

     (2) Gross misdemeanor. Every person convicted of a gross misdemeanor defined in Title 9A RCW shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a maximum term fixed by the court of up to three hundred sixty-four days, or by a fine in an amount fixed by the court of not more than five thousand dollars, or by both such imprisonment and fine.

     (3) Misdemeanor. Every person convicted of a misdemeanor defined in Title 9A RCW shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a maximum term fixed by the court of not more than ninety days, or by a fine in an amount fixed by the court of not more than one thousand dollars, or by both such imprisonment and fine.

     (4) This section applies to only those crimes committed on or after July 1, 1984.

     Findings--Intent -- 2011 c 96: "The legislature finds that a maximum sentence by a court in the state of Washington for a gross misdemeanor can, under federal law, result in the automatic deportation of a person who has lawfully immigrated to the United States, is a victim of domestic violence or a political refugee, even when all or part of the sentence to total confinement is suspended. The legislature further finds that this is a disproportionate outcome, when compared to a person who has been convicted of certain felonies which, under the state's determinate sentencing law, must be sentenced to less than one year and, hence, either have no impact on that person's residency status or will provide that person an opportunity to be heard in immigration proceedings where the court will determine whether deportation is appropriate. Therefore, it is the intent of the legislature to cure this inequity by reducing the maximum sentence for a gross misdemeanor by one day." [2011 c 96 § 1.]

     Intent -- Effective date -- 2003 c 53: See notes following RCW 2.48.180.

Penalty assessments in addition to fine or bail forfeiture -- Crime victim and witness programs in county: RCW 7.68.035.

RCW 7.68.035Penalty assessments in addition to fine or bail forfeiture — Distribution — Establishment of crime victim and witness programs in county — Contribution required from cities and towns. (1)(a) When any person is found guilty in any superior court of having committed a crime, except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, there shall be imposed by the court upon such convicted person a penalty assessment. The assessment shall be in addition to any other penalty or fine imposed by law and shall be five hundred dollars for each case or cause of action that includes one or more convictions of a felony or gross misdemeanor and two hundred fifty dollars for any case or cause of action that includes convictions of only one or more misdemeanors.

     (b) When any juvenile is adjudicated of any offense in any juvenile offense disposition under Title 13 RCW, except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, there shall be imposed upon the juvenile offender a penalty assessment. The assessment shall be in addition to any other penalty or fine imposed by law and shall be one hundred dollars for each case or cause of action that includes one or more adjudications for a felony or gross misdemeanor and seventy-five dollars for each case or cause of action that includes adjudications of only one or more misdemeanors.

     (2) The assessment imposed by subsection (1) of this section shall not apply to motor vehicle crimes defined in Title 46 RCW except those defined in the following sections: RCW 46.61.520, 46.61.522, 46.61.024, 46.52.090, 46.70.140, 46.61.502, 46.61.504, 46.52.101, 46.20.410, 46.52.020, 46.10.495, 46.09.480, 46.61.5249, 46.61.525, 46.61.685, 46.61.530, 46.61.500, 46.61.015, 46.52.010, 46.44.180, 46.10.490(2), and 46.09.470(2).

     (3) When any person accused of having committed a crime posts bail in superior court pursuant to the provisions of chapter 10.19 RCW and such bail is forfeited, there shall be deducted from the proceeds of such forfeited bail a penalty assessment, in addition to any other penalty or fine imposed by law, equal to the assessment which would be applicable under subsection (1) of this section if the person had been convicted of the crime.

     (4) Such penalty assessments shall be paid by the clerk of the superior court to the county treasurer who shall monthly transmit the money as provided in RCW 10.82.070. Each county shall deposit fifty percent of the money it receives per case or cause of action under subsection (1) of this section and retains under RCW 10.82.070, not less than one and seventy-five one-hundredths percent of the remaining money it retains under RCW 10.82.070 and the money it retains under chapter 3.62 RCW, and all money it receives under subsection (7) of this section into a fund maintained exclusively for the support of comprehensive programs to encourage and facilitate testimony by the victims of crimes and witnesses to crimes. A program shall be considered "comprehensive" only after approval of the department upon application by the county prosecuting attorney. The department shall approve as comprehensive only programs which:

     (a) Provide comprehensive services to victims and witnesses of all types of crime with particular emphasis on serious crimes against persons and property. It is the intent of the legislature to make funds available only to programs which do not restrict services to victims or witnesses of a particular type or types of crime and that such funds supplement, not supplant, existing local funding levels;

     (b) Are administered by the county prosecuting attorney either directly through the prosecuting attorney's office or by contract between the county and agencies providing services to victims of crime;

     (c) Make a reasonable effort to inform the known victim or his or her surviving dependents of the existence of this chapter and the procedure for making application for benefits;

     (d) Assist victims in the restitution and adjudication process; and

     (e) Assist victims of violent crimes in the preparation and presentation of their claims to the department of labor and industries under this chapter.

     Before a program in any county west of the Cascade mountains is submitted to the department for approval, it shall be submitted for review and comment to each city within the county with a population of more than one hundred fifty thousand. The department will consider if the county's proposed comprehensive plan meets the needs of crime victims in cases adjudicated in municipal, district or superior courts and of crime victims located within the city and county.

     (5) Upon submission to the department of a letter of intent to adopt a comprehensive program, the prosecuting attorney shall retain the money deposited by the county under subsection (4) of this section until such time as the county prosecuting attorney has obtained approval of a program from the department. Approval of the comprehensive plan by the department must be obtained within one year of the date of the letter of intent to adopt a comprehensive program. The county prosecuting attorney shall not make any expenditures from the money deposited under subsection (4) of this section until approval of a comprehensive plan by the department. If a county prosecuting attorney has failed to obtain approval of a program from the department under subsection (4) of this section or failed to obtain approval of a comprehensive program within one year after submission of a letter of intent under this section, the county treasurer shall monthly transmit one hundred percent of the money deposited by the county under subsection (4) of this section to the state treasurer for deposit in the state general fund.

     (6) County prosecuting attorneys are responsible to make every reasonable effort to insure that the penalty assessments of this chapter are imposed and collected.

     (7) Every city and town shall transmit monthly one and seventy-five one-hundredths percent of all money, other than money received for parking infractions, retained under RCW 3.50.100 and 35.20.220 to the county treasurer for deposit as provided in subsection (4) of this section.

[2011 c 336 § 246; 2011 c 171 § 3; 2009 c 479 § 8; 2000 c 71 § 3; 1999 c 86 § 1; 1997 c 66 § 9; 1996 c 122 § 2; 1991 c 293 § 1; 1989 c 252 § 29; 1987 c 281 § 1; 1985 c 443 § 13; 1984 c 258 § 311; 1983 c 239 § 1; 1982 1st ex.s. c 8 § 1; 1977 ex.s. c 302 § 10.]

     Intent--Effective date -- 2011 c 171: See notes following RCW 4.24.210.

     Effective date -- 2009 c 479: See note following RCW 2.56.030.

     Effective date -- 2000 c 71: See note following RCW 13.40.198.

     Findings -- Intent -- 1996 c 122: "The legislature finds that current funding for county victim-witness advocacy programs is inadequate. Also, the state crime victims compensation program should be enhanced to provide for increased benefits to families of victims who are killed as a result of a criminal act. It is the intent of the legislature to provide increased financial support for the county and state crime victim and witness programs by requiring offenders to pay increased penalty assessments upon conviction of a gross misdemeanor or felony crime. The increased financial support is intended to allow county victim/witness programs to more fully assist victims and witnesses through the criminal justice processes. On the state level, the increased funds will allow the remedial intent of the crime victims compensation program to be more fully served. Specifically, the increased funds from offender penalty assessments will allow more appropriate compensation for families of victims who are killed as a result of a criminal act, including reasonable burial benefits." [1996 c 122 § 1.]

     Purpose -- Prospective application -- Effective dates -- Severability -- 1989 c 252: See notes following RCW 9.94A.030.

     Effective date -- 1987 c 281: See note following RCW 7.68.020.

     Severability -- Effective date -- 1985 c 443: See notes following RCW 7.69.010.

     Court Improvement Act of 1984 -- Effective dates -- Severability -- Short title -- 1984 c 258: See notes following RCW 3.30.010.

     Intent -- 1984 c 258: See note following RCW 3.34.130.

     Effective dates -- 1982 1st ex.s. c 8: "Chapter 8, Laws of 1982 1st ex. sess. is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, and safety, the support of the state government and its existing public institutions, and shall take effect immediately [March 27, 1982], except sections 2, 3, and 6 of chapter 8, Laws of 1982 1st ex. sess. shall take effect on January 1, 1983." [1982 1st ex.s. c 47 § 29; 1982 1st ex.s. c 8 § 9.]

     Intent -- Reports -- 1982 1st ex.s. c 8: "The intent of the legislature is that the victim of crime program will be self-funded. Toward that end, the department of labor and industries shall not pay benefits beyond the resources of the account. The department of labor and industries and the administrator for the courts shall cooperatively prepare a report on the collection of penalty assessments and the level of expenditures, and recommend adjustments to the revenue collection mechanism to the legislature before January 1, 1983. It is further the intent of the legislature that the percentage of funds devoted to comprehensive programs for victim assistance, as provided in RCW 7.68.035, be re-examined to ensure that it does not unreasonably conflict with the higher priority of compensating victims. To that end, the county prosecuting attorneys shall report to the legislature no later than January 1, 1984, either individually or as a group, on their experience and costs associated with such programs, describing the nature and extent of the victim assistance provided." [1982 1st ex.s. c 8 § 10.]

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