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When a judge orders that certain actions be taken, and someone fails to take those actions, they may be held in contempt of court. In order for contempt to be an issue, the order must be in writing, and signed by a judge. In North Carolina, we have both civil contempt and criminal contempt, and each one has different requirements.
The requirements for civil contempt are established by statute as follows:
(a) Failure to comply with an order of a court is a continuing civil contempt as long as:
(1) The order remains in force;
(2) The purpose of the order may still be served by compliance with the order;
(2a) The noncompliance by the person to whom the order is directed is willful; and
(3) The person to whom the order is directed is able to comply with the order or is able to take reasonable measures that would enable the person to comply with the order
Civil contempt is punishable by imprisonment and/or payment of attorney's fees. Additionally, a judge may order the person to take some action to purge (or make right) their civil contempt.
Criminal contempt is defined by statute as follows:
(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), each of the following is criminal contempt:
(1) Willful behavior committed during the sitting of a court and directly tending to interrupt its proceedings.
(2) Willful behavior committed during the sitting of a court in its immediate view and presence and directly tending to impair the respect due its authority.
(3) Willful disobedience of, resistance to, or interference with a court's lawful process, order, directive, or instruction or its execution.
(4) Willful refusal to be sworn or affirmed as a witness, or, when so sworn or affirmed, willful refusal to answer any legal and proper question when the refusal is not legally justified.
(5) Willful publication of a report of the proceedings in a court that is grossly inaccurate and presents a clear and present danger of imminent and serious threat to the administration of justice, made with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false. No person, however, may be punished for publishing a truthful report of proceedings in a court.
(6) Willful or grossly negligent failure by an officer of the court to perform his duties in an official transaction.
(7) Willful or grossly negligent failure to comply with schedules and practices of the court resulting in substantial interference with the business of the court. NC General Statutes - Chapter 5A Article 1 2
(8) Willful refusal to testify or produce other information upon the order of a judge acting pursuant to Article 61 of Chapter 15A, Granting of Immunity to Witnesses.
(9) Willful communication with a juror in an improper attempt to influence his deliberations.
(9a) Willful refusal by a defendant to comply with a condition of probation.
(9b) Willful refusal to accept post-release supervision or to comply with the terms of post-release supervision by a prisoner whose offense requiring post-release supervision is a reportable conviction subject to the registration requirement of Article 27A of Chapter 14 of the General Statutes. For purposes of this subdivision, "willful refusal to accept post-release supervision or to comply with the terms of post-release supervision" includes, but is not limited to, knowingly violating the terms of post-release supervision in order to be returned to prison to serve out the remainder of the supervisee's sentence.
(10) Any other act or omission specified elsewhere in the General Statutes of North Carolina as grounds for criminal contempt.
The grounds for criminal contempt specified here are exclusive, regardless of any other grounds for criminal contempt which existed at common law.
(b) No person may be held in contempt under this section on the basis of the content of any broadcast, publication, or other communication unless it presents a clear and present danger of an imminent and serious threat to the administration of criminal justice.
(c) This section is subject to the provisions of G.S. 7A-276.1, Court orders prohibiting publication or broadcast of reports of open court proceedings or reports of public records banned. (1977, c. 711, s. 3; 1994, Ex. Sess., c. 19, s. 1; 2011-307, s. 6.)
Criminal contempt may be punished by imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $500.
If you believe you need to pursue a contempt action, or if a claim for contempt has been filed against you, contact us to discuss the best course of action for your case moving forward.