What are the Potential Punishment for Contempt Charges

The potential punishment for contempt charges in Alabama vary depending on the type of contempt and the purpose of the contempt charge.

Punishment for contempt charges that are criminal contempt charges in Alabama are restricted by the due process clause of the Alabama Constitution and the United States Constitution. This limitation is recognized in the Alabama Code in Section 12-11-30(5) which states: “The circuit court may punish contempts by fines not exceeding one hundred dollars ($100) and by imprisonment not exceeding five days.”   When considering this limitation,  you must also consider that this limitation is imposed per each act of contempt.   An example of a punishment for contempt charges in a child custody situation is where the custodial parent is preventing the noncustodial parent from exercising visitation, a court may consider each instance where the visitation is not allowed as a separate act of contempt. Therefore, each separate act of content could potentially receive a fine of $100 and five days in jail. As discussed  in a previous post, the purpose of punishment for contempt charges of a criminal nature, a criminal contempt charge, is to punish. Therefore, it is considered appropriate to impose fines and jail days as an appropriate sentence.

In reference to punishment for contempt charges of a civil nature,  civil contempt charges, the same Alabama Code section states: “The power of the circuit court to enforce its orders and judgements by determinations of civil contempt shall be unaffected by this section.” This means that in terms of a civil contempt citation or charge the court is not limited to the $100 fine and the five days in jail limitation. Also as discussed in a previous post, a civil contempt charge is not designed to punish, but is designed to compel a person to do some act ordered by the court or to refrain from doing something per a court order. Because of this,  the judge or court may enforce a civil contempt charge by either placing the person in jail until they comply with the order, or by imposing a monetary fine on the person for each day they fail to abide by the court’s order.   Because of this fact punishment for contempt charges that are civil may go on indefinitely until compliance. However, where a person can show that they have a true inability to comply with the court’s order a court may not hold the person in civil contempt. Complete inability to comply with an order is a defense to civil contempt.

As a general rule, civil contempt charges are designed to influence conduct in the future, and criminal contempt charges are designed to punish some action in the past.






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