Criminal Contempt Charges in Michigan

People convicted of contempt of court frequently face jail unless they have a strong defense. Don’t trust your fate and freedom to just any attorney.

There Are Two Types of Contempt of Court – Criminal and Civil

Contempt of court is a willful act, omission, or statement that tends to impair the authority or impede the functioning of a court. The first step to building a successful defense to contempt of court charges is determining if a contempt finding is criminal or civil. In the case of criminal contempt, an attorney can request a hearing and fight to reduce or eliminate jail time. To defend against civil contempt, the litigant must persuade the judge that an alternative to jail is adequate to ensure compliance with court orders.

Criminal Contempt of Court Charges – Punishment for Contemptuous Behavior

Criminal contempt of court charges are quasi-criminal charges. Therefore, more stringent procedures and evidentiary rules are used, and the burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” as in all criminal cases. Criminal contempt proceedings punish a party for something they have already done, constituting an affront (insult) to the court’s dignity. Because of the punishment aspect, most of the criminal rules of evidence apply. A judge’s decision to hold someone in contempt is generally a direct reaction to something occurring in the courtroom or a violation of a court order. When contempt is committed in the immediate view and presence of the court, the court may punish it summarily by fine, or imprisonment, or both.

Criminal contempt results from an affront to the court’s authority and dignity, such as if a party yells profanity or is insolent to the judge during a court proceeding. There is rarely a need for a hearing because the judge personally observed the contempt or it is otherwise apparent, i.e., all facts necessary to find contempt are within the “personal knowledge of the judge.” All that usually remains is for the judge to impose a punishment or sentence, which they sometimes do immediately. Our attorneys have an unparalleled track record of successfully persuading judges to order lenient or suspended jail sentences. You do not want to face a judge for sentencing with an inexperienced lawyer or any attorney who does not specialize in criminal defense.

As the Michigan Court of Appeals has acknowledged, the judge in a summary criminal contempt violation is the “victim, prosecutor, judge, and jury.”

The use of summary contempt power is proper only for charges of misconduct, in open court, in the presence of the judge, which disturbs the court’s business, where all of the essential elements of the misconduct are under the eye of the court, are actually observed by the court, and where immediate punishment is essential to prevent demoralization of the court’s authority before the public.

FTC v Trudeau, 606 F3d 382, 389 (CA 7, 2010); MCL 600.1711

Civil Contempt – Forceful Persuasion to Comply with a Court Order

Civil contempt of court is where a court acts to coerce (force) a party (the “contemnor”) to abide by a court order and “remedy” (correct) a party’s failures to follow such order. Civil contempt is, therefore, remedial rather than punitive; the judge intends to force someone to be compliant. In addition to its coercive purpose, the judge can use civil contempt to compel a party to compensate the opposing side for a debt they owe to someone in the underlying case. The burden of proof in civil contempt proceedings is a preponderance of the evidence (51%).

The judge gives civil contemnors notice of the alleged contempt and a chance to respond. The allegations result from actions or omissions outside the court’s presence. The party facing contempt of court charges will cease receiving punishment as soon as they comply with the court’s order or prove they cannot comply for some valid reason. In other words, the offender figuratively “has the key to their jail cell in their pocket,” as the old saying goes, although actual jail is rarely involved in these civil proceedings.  

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What is the Punishment for Criminal Contempt?

The punishment for criminal contempt is 93 days in jail, a maximum fine of $7,500.00, and up to two years of probation. Additionally, a judge can order the person found guilty of contempt to pay attorney fees, costs, or restitution. Probation for contempt of court can include therapy, drug/alcohol testing, community service, restricted travel, GPS tether, mandatory work or education, and firearms restrictions.

Defense to Charges and Seeking a Lenient Punishment

A person held in contempt of court can request a hearing to contest the court’s ruling and the contempt charges. Depending on the circumstances, a Contempt Defense Attorney could file a Motion for Reconsideration or a Motion for Evidentiary Hearing. If there is no legal defense or a judge will not grant a hearing, an experienced lawyer can mitigate the potential sentence. In other words, an attorney can fight to convince the judge not to order jail time.

Judges make mistakes and have the full panoply of human emotions. If a judge feels insulted or loses their temper, they might improperly hold someone in contempt. Every ruling of a district or circuit court judge can be appealed, including a finding of contempt. The attorneys with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have extensive experience with criminal appeals and are ready, willing, and able to appeal an unjust contempt finding to a higher court.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

As you can see from above, contempt of court charges can be tricky to understand, and the punishments can be severe. Hiring a very experienced and knowledgeable defense attorney to help you through the process is highly advisable. If a judge holds you in criminal or civil contempt, your best hope is to request a hearing at which you can have an experienced criminal defense attorney appear on your behalf.

How do you defend yourself in contempt of court hearings?

It is better not to defend yourself in contempt of court hearings and, instead, let a qualified attorney help you. An attorney with experience defending clients on contempt charges will know how to seek dismissal of the charges and, if dismissal isn’t possible, pursue a lenient sentence without incarceration.

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Attorneys Experienced with Defending Contempt of Court Charges

People’s lives can be upended in court because a judge’s rulings and decisions can negatively impact someone’s life, family, children, employment, finances, and freedom. Emotions that run out of control can provoke someone to act impulsively or thoughtlessly, resulting in contempt of court charges. Also, a judge might lose their cool and unfairly take out their aggression or frustration on a litigant in their courtroom or subject to their jurisdiction.

The defense attorneys with LEWIS & DICKSTEIN, P.L.L.C. have extensive experience successfully defending clients on contempt charges. We are well-known to judges, and they respect our knowledge and professionalism. Put our experience and reputation to work for you. If you call us for a free consultation, we will take the time to listen to you, answer your questions, and work with you to develop a winning strategy to reverse or avoid the contempt conviction and prevent you from going to jail. Our attorney fees are fair and affordable.

Call us today at (248) 263-6800 for a free consultation or complete an online Request for Assistance Form. We will contact you promptly and find a way to help you.

We will find a way to help you and, most importantly,
we are not afraid to win!

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