Civil contempt sanctions are designed to compel future compliance with a court order. In the eyes of the court, they are coercive and avoidable through obedience, and “thus may be imposed in an ordinary civil proceeding upon notice and an opportunity to be heard. Neither a jury trial nor proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required.” International Union, UMWA v. Bagwell, 512 U.S. 821, 114 S.Ct. 2552, 2557 (1994).
One line of reasoning is that once a civil contempt ruling is made by the judge, that ruling is criminal, which then falls under criminal jurisdiction. In this event, your rights change.
“Criminal contempt is a crime in the ordinary sense” claims Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194, 201 (1968), and “criminal penalties may not be imposed on someone who has not been afforded the protections that the Constitution requires of such criminal proceedings.” Hicks v. Feiock, 485 U.S. 624, 632 (1988).
These constitutional protections include the right
(1) not to be subject to double jeopardy, see United States v. Dixon, 509 U.S. 688, 695 (1993); In re Bradley, 318 U.S. 50 (1943);
(2) to receive notice of the charges,
(3) to receive assistance of counsel;
(4) to receive summary process;
(5) to present a defense, Cooke v. United States, 267 U.S. 515, 537 (1925);
(6) not to self-incriminate oneself, and
(7) to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co., 221 U.S. 418, 444 (1911). For serious criminal contempts involving imprisonment of more than six months, these protections include the right to a jury trial. Bloom, 391 U.S. at 199.
One problem is that some judges have ruled that contempt of court is not a serious crime. This outlook continues to overshadow your civil rights. However, it can be argued that since this is not a serious crime, that the punishment does not fit the crime.
Notice: This article is not legal counsel. You will need an attorney and your own wits to supply you with the details of your case.
Contempt of Court: One Line of Thinking by E.J. Manning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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