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Direct & Indirect Contempt of Court

There are four (4) types of contempt of court: criminal, civil, direct and indirect. Curtis v. Tozer274 S.W.2d 557, 568 (Mo. Ct. App. 1964). Specifically, there are two categories of contempt — civil and criminal — and each are further divided into two subcategories — direct and indirect. Id. For purposes of this discussion, focus is given solely to direct and indirect contempt of court.

A direct contempt occurs in the immediate presence of the court or in such close proximity that it interrupts its proceedings. Curtis, 374 S.W.2d at 568. Under MO Supreme Court Rule 36.01(a), a criminal contempt may be punished summarily if the judge certifies that he/she saw or heard the conduct constituting the contempt and that it was committed in the actual presence of the Court.

Indirect contempt, on the other hand, arises from an act outside the court that tends to degrade or make impotent the authority of the court or to impede or embarrass the administration of justice. Curtis, 374 S.W.2d at 568. The procedural differences in direct and indirect contempt actions are based upon the availability of the facts to the judge who must make a determination of contempt. Mechanic v. Gruensfelder, 461 S.W.2d 298, 307 (Mo. Ct. App. 1970).

Due process requires that one charged with contempt of court be advised of the charges against him/her, have a reasonable opportunity to meet them by way of defense or explanation, have the right to be represented by counsel, and have a chance to call other witnesses on his/her behalf, either by way of defense or explanation. In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 275 (1948).

Indirect contempt charges are much more common, as, by and large, individuals are respectful in the Court’s presence. The most common types of contempt charges arise from non-disclosure of court documents, refusal to follow a temporary restraining order or injunction, breaching confidentiality agreements, or failing to follow support or custody obligations.

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