Penal Code Section 166 – Contempt of Court

Penal Code Section 166(a) – Specified Acts of Contempt:

Under Section 166(a), it is a misdemeanor to do the following:
    1. Interrupt a court proceeding in the direct view of the judge using disorderly, contemptuous or rude behavior.1
    2. Interrupt a trial or hearing overseen by a referee using disorderly, contemptuous or rude behavior.2
    3. Making noise or otherwise disturbing the peace in a manner that directly interrupts court proceedings.3
    4. Willful disobedience of the written terms of a California or out-of-state court order.4
    5. Willful resistance to a lawful court order.5
    6. Refusal to be sworn as a witness, or to answer a material question when directed to do so by a court.6
    7. Publication of a grossly inaccurate or false report of a court proceeding.7
    8. Presenting unauthorized statements in mitigation or aggravation to a sentencing judge.8
    9. Willful violation of a gang injunction order.9

Defending Against a Penal Code Section 166 Charge:

Every case is different.  You should consult with a qualified criminal defense attorney to evaluate your case.  Defenses to a Penal Code Sectio 166 violation may include:

  • The order was not “lawfully issued.”10
  • The Defendant did not have “knowledge” of the order and its contents.11
  • The Defendant lacked the  “ability” to comply with the order.12
  • the Defendant did not “willfully” violate the order.13

No Need to Prove The Defendant Read The Order:

At any trial, the court will instruct the jury that the prosecution must prove that “the defendant knew about the court order and that he had the opportunity to read the order or to otherwise become familiar  with what it said.”  The prosecution does not have to prove that the Defendant actually read the order.14

About the Author:

Bill Haney is a Ventura County criminal defense attorney.  Mr. Haney is a former supervising prosecutor in the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.  He also served as an adjunct faculty member at Pepperdine University School of Law.

Photo Apr 25, 6 56 02 PM

Sources Cited / Notes:

Article posted May 9, 2018, updated May 11, 2018.
1Penal Code Section 166(a)(1).
2Penal Code Section 166(a)(1).  A referee is a person assigned by a court to take testimony at a hearing.
3Penal Code Section 166(a)(3).
4Penal Code Section 166(a)(4).
5Penal Code Section 166(a)(5).
6Penal Code Section 166(a)(6).
7Penal Code Section 166(a)(7).
8Penal Code Section 166(a)(8)
9Penal Code Section 166(a)(9). In recent years, state and federal courts have dramatically reduced the viability of California’s gang injunctions. On May 7, 2018, the Ventura County Superior Court temporarily suspended the enforcement of Oxnard’s Colonia Chiques gang injunction.  See Ventura County Star article here.
10 Calfornia Criminal Jury Instruction No. 2700; see also People v. Gonzalez (1996) 12 Cal.4th 804, 816-817.
11 See People v. Saffell (1946) 74 Cal.app.3d Supp. 967, 979.
12 People v. Greenfield (1982) 134 Cal.App.3d Supp. 1 [To find a violation of the criminal contempt statute true, it must be determined that the defendant possessed the ability to comply, yet still disobeyed the order].
13 Pursuant to Penal Code Section 7: “The word ‘willfully,” when applied to the intent with which an act is done or omitted, implies simply a purpose or willingness to commit the act, or make the commission referred to. It does not require any intent to violate the law, or to injure another, or to acquire any advantage.”
14 California Criminal Jury Instruction No. 2700.

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