New Jersey Contempt of Court Charges
Contempt Defense Lawyers in Middlesex County NJ
When a New Jersey court issues an order in a domestic violence case or in any other type of case, the person on the receiving end of that order must obey it. Failure to adhere to the requirements of the court order is considered a violation, and a violation of a court order is actually a crime that carries severe penalties. The reason it’s classified as a crime is that NJ lawmakers realized that judges need to have some authority to enforce their orders, and the ability to direct police to make an arrest and charge violators with criminal contempt is a large part of what gives a court order its force and power. When you are charged with contempt of court, you may be subject to arrest and detention. You could also be sentenced to prison time if you are ultimately convicted, depending on the circumstances of the violation. All of this makes it critically important that you speak with a qualified criminal defense lawyer who can help you contest the contempt charges and avoid a negative outcome.
If you are facing criminal charges for contempt of court in Middlesex County, NJ, contact the criminal defense attorneys at our Edison law office for immediate assistance with your defense. We have over a decade each of experience defending clients charged with contempt offenses for violation of a restraining order and other violations of court orders in towns like New Brunswick, Piscataway, Carteret, East Brunswick, Perth Amboy, Woodbridge, and surrounding communities in the Middlesex County area. Contact us at (732) 659-9600 for a free consultation regarding your contempt charge and what can be done to challenge the state’s case against you.
What is Criminal Contempt of Court in NJ?
If you disobey a court order, you may be charged with criminal contempt of court. What exactly does that mean? The charge for contempt of court is codified in N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9 of the New Jersey Criminal Code, and the statute stipulates that it is against the law for anyone to knowingly disobey a court order. The statute also specifies that it is illegal for a person to in any way obstruct a court’s ability to exercise jurisdiction, as well as to obstruct or impede an investigation by authorities. Basically, there are two ways a person can commit contempt of court: either by
- directly disobeying a judge’s order in the courtroom, or by
- indirectly violating a court order or court rules outside the courtroom
Charges for Direct Contempt in Court
When you are in the courtroom, there is an expectation that you will have a basic understanding of the court’s decorum and adhere to certain rules and instructions from the judge. If you are disruptive while the court is in session, you could be cited for contempt. For example, you should avoid using your cell phone to talk or text while court is in session. It is also important that you avoid interrupting the judge or generally being unruly while the hearing or trial is under way. NJ judges will not hesitate to keep their proceedings running smoothly and efficiently, so you could find yourself being cited for contempt very quickly if you do not follow the judge’s directives.
Indirect Contempt Offenses for Court Order Violations
The most serious form of criminal contempt is an indirect violation that occurs outside the courtroom, particularly when the violation stems from ignoring a court order in a domestic violence case. Criminal contempt charges often arise in domestic violence cases involving protective orders, such as a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a final restraining order (FRO). In fact, the statute specifically addresses both protective orders and the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, with a violation of either constituting a special kind of criminal contempt that carries particular penalties. For example, when a defendant in a domestic violence case is subject to a restraining order, they can be charged with the crime of contempt if they violate the terms of the restraining order.
Even when your case does not involve a restraining order, you can still be charged with criminal contempt if you obstruct or interfere with the court proceedings. For example, you need to avoid communicating with jurors in the trial, and the same is also true for attempted communications with opposing witnesses because an attempt to speak to either could be viewed as intimidation. You could even be charged with obstruction.
Is a Contempt Charge a Felony in New Jersey?
For starters, contempt can be classified as either an indictable offense or a disorderly persons offense, depending on what led to the contempt charge. An indictable offense (a felony) carries the possibility of prison time, and it can leave you with a criminal record. By contrast, a disorderly persons offense (a misdemeanor) can result in jail time, but there is a greater likelihood that you will be able to avoid jail time by reaching a plea deal and receiving probation instead. The exact degree of the charge is what will determine the range of penalties:
- Fourth Degree: If your contempt of court charge is classified as a fourth degree crime, you may face a sentence of up to 18 months in state prison, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9 sets forth the degree of contempt charges, and the statute dictates that anyone who violates a restraining order or who obstructs or hinders a judicial order may be charged with a fourth degree felony if the manner in which they violated the order would otherwise constitute a criminal offense.
- Disorderly Persons Offense: A less serious contempt charge that has been classified as a disorderly persons offense can still come with significant penalties, including a sentence of up to six (6) months in the county jail, as well as a fine of $1,000. An example of a contempt charge that might be classified as a disorderly persons offense would be interrupting the judge during a hearing or trial. You may also be charged with this degree of offense if your restraining order violation was not a crime in an of itself, such as calling the victim on the phone.
Avoiding the Harsh Punishments in a Contempt of Court Case
Keep in mind that a contempt of court charge is often accompanied by other criminal charges, especially if the contempt charge stems from a separate criminal offense. For instance, if you violated a restraining order by threatening an ex-spouse, you could be charged with both contempt of court and terroristic threats. If you struck or otherwise physically harmed the other person, you could be charged with aggravated assault as well. Regardless of whether you face multiple criminal charges or just one charge for contempt of court, it is vital that you have a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who is on your side and raising strong defenses against the charges.
The harsh reality is that judges and prosecutors are often more willing to enter into plea negotiations and make favorable deals with a defendant who is represented by a competent attorney. This can potentially result in the contempt charges being dismissed entirely, or it could lead to the charges being downgraded from an indictable felony to a disorderly persons offense that won’t leave you with a permanent criminal record. That’s one very important reason why you should not delay in getting a lawyer to defend your contempt of court case.
Additionally, if your case does go to trial, your lawyer can hold the prosecution to the highest standards of proof while challenging the required elements of a contempt charge. For example, in order to secure a conviction for contempt of court, the prosecution must prove that there was in fact a court order in place, that you defied the order, and that you did so knowingly or purposefully. Your attorney may be able to refute one, two, or all three of these elements at trial and help you secure a not-guilty verdict.
Contact Criminal Defense Attorneys handling Contempt Charges at our offices in Edison NJ
Getting talented defense counsel for your contempt of court case is simply a must, especially if you are seeking to avoid a criminal record or you have been convicted of the charge in the past, which means you are facing mandatorily a month of jail time. To speak to a criminal defense lawyer who can help get started on devising your most effective defense approach, contact our office in Edison at (732) 659-9600. A member of our legal team is here to assist you in a free consultation now.