Every court of law has the inherent power to punish the parties that appear before it from misuse or abuse of legal process. In Illinois, the court has the authority to sentence those people to imprisonment.
There are two types of contempt of court recognized under Illinois law. First, a person can be guilty of civil contempt. And second, a person can be guilty of criminal contempt.
There is an important distinction between criminal and civil contempt of court. To illustrate, a father who fails to pay child-support pursuant to a court order would be guilty of civil contempt. The judge would be permitted to put this person in jail. However, in civil contempt, the person who has committed contempt holds the keys to his jail cell. If the father pays the court ordered child support, then he would be no longer in contempt and released from custody.
Civil contempt is meant to punish people who are violating a court order. Once that person comes into compliance with the court order, there is no need for a penalty.
Civil contempt can occur in domestic battery cases. If the complaining witness is served with a subpoena to appear in court and testify but refuses to show up, she can be held in contempt. The judge can issue a body attachment, which is like an arrest warrant, to bring her before the court. The judge can also hold her in jail until the trial. But a situation like this would be civil contempt because once the complaining witness appears in court, then she is no longer in contempt.
Criminal contempt of court is different. If a person is guilty of criminal contempt of court, the punishment is intended to deter other people from committing the same conduct. The person who is guilty of criminal contempt of court does not hold the keys to his jail cell. This person must serve a sentence like any other criminal defendant.
Contempt of court under Illinois law is considered to be the following: any conduct committed with intent to impede, embarrass, or obstruct the court, or to derogate from the court’s authority, or bring the court into disrepute.
If accused of criminal contempt of court, the defendant is presumed innocent and must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The accused is entitled to a trial.
There are two different types of criminal contempt of court. Direct criminal contempt is any conduct that takes place in the presence of the judge. In these cases, the judge is a witness to the contempt of court. Therefore, the judge does not have to hold trial to determine the guilt or innocence of the person who is in contempt. In situations where direct criminal contempt of court takes place, the judge is authorized to impose a sentence immediately.
An example of direct criminal contempt would be a defendant who yells out at the judge, “F— you,” during a court appearance. (These things happen.) The judge could sentence this defendant to jail immediately.
Another example would be if a witnesses on the stand refuses to testify. In domestic battery cases, this can be a problem. It also is known to occur in trials for gang-related crimes. The judge would be allowed to sentence the defendant to jail for refusing to testify.
Indirect criminal contempt of court is different. In these cases, the content is considered to be indirect because it did not take place in the presence of the judge. In cases of indirect criminal contempt of court the judge is not permitted to impose a sentence immediately. The reason is the judge was not a witness to the conduct that is considered to be in contempt of court. A person who is accused of indirect criminal attempt of court has a right to an attorney, and a trial in which he may call witnesses in his defense. Note however, that the defendant is not entitled to a jury. He is only entitled to a bench trial.
To illustrate indirect criminal contempt of court consider a situation where the judge orders the defendant not to have contact with the complaining witness. If the defendant communicates with the complaining witness outside court, he could be guilty of indirect criminal contempt. But because the judge was not a witness to it, it is indirect.
Criminal contempt of court has a penalty of up to 180 days jail and a fine of $500. Illinois law does not have a statute for contempt of court. Instead, the rules for contempt come from common law.
The only statute in Illinois governing contempt of court is 730 ILCS 130/3. This is the County Jail Act, and it says that a sentence for contempt of court is like any other sentence for a crime. Good time credit applies to reduce the sentence by 50%.