An Overview of Alabama Contempt Charges 

Kinds of Contempt

ALABAMA CONTEMPT CHARGESAlabama contempt charges, or contempt citations, are divided into four classes: (1) direct, (2) indirect, or constructive, (3) criminal, and (4) civil. All civil and criminal contempt proceedings arising out of civil actions are governed by Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 70A.

Direct Contempt

Alabama contempt charges for direct contempt is an act of contempt that is done within the presence of the court.  Rule 70A defines “direct contempt” as “disorderly or insolent behavior or other misconduct committed in open court, in the presence of the judge, which disturbs the court’s business.” In such cases it is important that the court take immediate action in order to preserve the court’s dignity and authority before the public.

Indirect or Constructive Contempt

Alabama contempt charges for indirect contempt include any contempt other than that which is a direct contempt.  In general terms, this means the content in which all or some of the acts or action take place outside the presence of the court.   In cases of indirect or constructive contempt, certain due process rights are invoked, and the court must provide such things as adequate notice and an opportunity to be heard before finding a person in contempt.

Civil Contempt

Civil contempt refers to a willful, continuing failure or refusal of a person to comply with a court’s order, ruling, or command, including a subpoena.  In order for there to be a civil contempt the ruling, order, or command must still be capable of being complied with before  Alabama contempt charges will be justified.

Criminal Contempt

 Alabama contempt charges  are considered criminal contempt  under two circumstances.  First  a content is a criminal contempt where the misconduct of the person obstructs the administration of justice and is committed in the court’s presence are so close to the court that it interrupts, disturbs or hinders the court proceeding.    Second, a contempt is a criminal contempt where there is willful disobedience or resistance by a person to a court’s lawful order and where the court’s principal purpose for the content is to punish as opposed to coursing compliance with the order.
Standard of Proof in Criminal Contempt in Civil Proceeding
Where Alabama contempt charges are based on a criminal contempt committed in a civil proceeding, Alabama courts have ruled that the content must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  “The test is whether the evidence is sufficient to justify the trial judge, as trier of the facts, in concluding beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty, and that such evidence is inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis of his innocence.”  Ex parte Ferguson, 819 So. 2d 626, 629 (Ala. 2001)
Inability to Comply as a Defense to Contempt
 In relation to Alabama contempt charges, it is a viable defense to show a complete inability to comply with the court’s order. One typical example of such a defense is a situation where monetary support such as child support or alimony has not been paid, but the person responsible for paying is able to demonstrate to the court that they have a complete inability to pay the money owed. The burden of proving the inability to comply is on the person charged with contempt.

“Imprisonment for contempt should never be imposed by a judge where failure to pay [court-ordered support] is not from contumacy, but from inability to comply with the order.” Ex parte Talbert, 419 So.2d 240, 241 (Ala.Civ.App.1982).”

Ambiguity in Court’s Order

Where a court’s order is reasonably susceptible to two meanings, it may be considered ambiguous.  As a consequence, it would not be fair to find that someone willfully violated the order.  This is true because where the order could be interpreted two or more different ways, it is not possible to determine exactly what the court is compelling the person to do.

Likewise, Alabama courts have held that Alabama contempt charges are not justified where there is a simple error in judgment without clear and convincing evidence of bad faith.  Nave v. Nave, 942 So. 2d 372, 379 (Ala. Civ. App. 2005)






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