Criminal Contempt in Indiana

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Posted in On May 30, 2024

Most people familiar with the legal system (or who have seen any criminal show on TV), have heard of the word of “contempt.” Most people also know being held in contempt isn’t a good thing, obviously. Yet, what most people don’t realize is that there are multiple forms of contempt. Broadly speaking, there are two main types of contempt: civil and criminal. This blog will focus on the criminal form of contempt.

But what is criminal contempt? Webster’s defines it as: “a lack of respect or reverence for something” or “willful disobedience to or open disrespect of a court, judge, or legislative body.” That definition pretty closely resembles the legal definition of contempt as well. Generally speaking, contempt is the act of defying or disrespecting a court’s authority and its ability to administer justice.

More specifically, Indiana Code 34-47 chapters 1-3 define criminal contempt. Within those statutes, the law is broken down, primarily but not exclusively, into two main categories: (1) direct contempt, and (2) indirect contempt.

IC 34-47-2: Direct contempt.

Direct contempt is as it implies — someone is directly, willfully engaging in behavior in the presence of the judge and in open court, that shows complete disrespect for the judge and court proceedings. This requires that the judge witness the behavior firsthand and in court. To be contemptuous, the conduct typically falls within three categories: (1) disruptive behavior of court proceedings, (2) a witness flatly refuses to take the oath (unless a privilege applies) or while testifying does so in a disrespectful or disruptive manner, and/or (3) if the person is attempting to harass, threaten, intimidate, or influence a witness to the proceedings.

If this conduct is witnessed, a judge will address the behavior immediately in open court. The judge must then layout what conduct they witnessed on the record, how it disrupted court, and will typically allow the person to explain or justify their actions. If the court is not satisfied with this explanation, the court will enter an order of judgement and administer a reasonable punishment that includes a fine and/or executed sentence. However, the maximum sentence the court can impose is 180 days. A written order must follow the proceeding laying out the requirements herein.

Importantly, because the behavior occurred in front of the judge, typical due process and procedure to fight what’s alleged is considerably limited.

IC 34-47-3: Indirect contempt.

Indirect contempt is also as it sounds — someone is indirectly being contemptuous. It is indirect as it is occurring outside of the court setting and not in the presence of the judge. Typically, indirect contempt requires a willful act where the actor is deliberately intending to (1) interfere or disobey a court order or process, (2) harass, threaten, intimidate, or influence a witness outside of court, and/or (3) provide false reports/testimony in regard to a case.

If indirect contemptuous conduct is suspected, an actual case needs filed against the actor. This is done by filing a “MC” cause number with a caption of “The State of Indiana” vs the defendant. Due process is required and a Rule to Show Cause is mandatory with the contemnor (defendant) required to respond. Special judges are then assigned and the judge requesting the indirect attempt must recuse themselves.

As the process continues, the defendant is then both entitled to counsel (either private or assigned a public defender) and to be apprised of their statutory and constitutional rights. At the hearing on the contempt, the standard of proof is the “contemnor (defendant) acted with willful and intentional disobedience.” If the contemnor fails to appear for the hearing, the parties can proceed without them. If the sentence imposed is requesting 180 days or more, then a jury trial is required unless waived.

Possible defenses for indirect include: (1) improper notice of what is alleged, (2) inability to obey — with the burden falling on the defense to prove, and/or (3) inability to pay — with the burden falling on the defendant. Possible sanctions arising from indirect contempt include: fine, prison/jail, and/or any other “reasonable” sanction.

While contempt of court is more often threatened than employed to its fullest, it is essential that you understand the process and procedures if you find yourself in the midst of a contempt hearing. Should you or a loved one be facing contempt of court or any criminal matter, give the experienced attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC a call today. We are available 24/7/365 at 317.870.0019 or by email at