Florida Supreme Court Wrestles With Contempt Issue

The Florida Supreme Court was recently asked to decide an issue involving a state senator, a divorce, and a dog. As is so often the case, the Florida Supreme Court is asked to decide issues that involve unique sets of facts. In this particular case, the High Court had to decide between two different types of contempt of court.

Contempt of court is a tool that judges use to ensure that their power and authority is respected. Contempt of court can be handed down by a judge for many reasons - failure to follow a court order, disrupting a judicial proceeding, or otherwise disrespecting a judge’s role. It is often said that when someone is jailed or punished by contempt of court, the punished person holds the key to their release because they simply have to comply with the court to avoid further punishment.

Contempt of Court in Florida

In Florida, contempt of court can take one of two different forms - direct and indirect contempt of court. Both forms of contempt are punished under the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure.

Direct criminal contempt of court is reserved for those cases when the contempt happens directly in front of the judge. For example, if a litigant in a case defies a court order to sit down or be quiet during a proceeding. Before the judge can hand down the judgement, she must tell the person why she is holding the person in contempt and provide an opportunity to defend the charge.

Indirect criminal contempt of court happens in cases where the person disobeys a court order but not in front of the judge. These cases typically involve situations where a person is ordered by the court to pay a judgement, appear in court, or comply in some other way and fails to do so. In that type of situation a court will issue an order of arrest that will bring the person in front of the judge to answer as to why the failure to comply has occurred.

What Happened in This Case

In the case at hand the judge ordered a state senator to show up to court to explain why he did not comply with his divorce order. The divorce order by the judge ordered the man to give one of two dogs to his ex-wife. The state senator refused to do so and refused to show up to court to explain why. As a result, the judge held the man in direct criminal contempt of court.

The state senator appeal the contempt order to the Supreme Court. In his pleadings he argued that at the most he could be held for indirect contempt of court, not direct. The Florida Supreme Court agreed with the state senator. The opinion, released on the 5th of November 2015, explained why the lower court was wrong to issue a direct contempt of court order in this case. At the heart of the opinion was the fact that for direct contempt of court the judge must actually observe the contempt.

Panama City Area Accident and Injury Attorney

At The Pittman Firm we understand how important it is to comply with court orders. The power and authority of the court is necessary for our system of justice to properly function. If you have been injured in an accident and would like to take your case to court, contact us.

See related blog posts: Florida House Considering 'Open-Carry' Bill; Florida Supreme Court: Judicial Dress Code Requirements.

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