The purpose of this article is to explain contempt of court in Illinois, including the difference between civil contempt and criminal contempt in Illinois, the difference between direct contempt of court and indirect contempt of court and Rule to Show Cause proceedings.
An individual may be held in contempt of court for any actions that obstruct the administration of the court’s justice or that are intended to disrespect the court’s authority. If you are held in contempt of court, the court may impose a monetary fine or jail time. Contempt may be either a civil penalty or a criminal penalty. Whether the contempt is civil or criminal it may be direct contempt or indirect contempt.
Direct contempt occurs when the contemptuous conduct occurs in the presence of the judge. The primary purpose of direct contempt orders is to maintain order in the courtroom.
Any contemptuous actions that are not witnessed by the judge are classified as indirect contempt. An individual who is accused of indirect contempt has a right to notice, counsel, and a hearing.
Because direct contempt is witnessed by the judge, much less is required by way of due process than in the case of indirect contempt. The judge typically summarily issues direct contempt orders immediately without hearing or argument.
The distinction between civil contempt and criminal contempt revolves around the court’s reason for imposing the sanctions. Civil contempt sanctions are imposed for the purpose of compelling an individual to do something. Criminal contempt sanctions are imposed as punishment for something the individual has already done.
If an individual is placed in jail based on civil contempt, he or she will typically be released once he or she complies with the court’s order.
Indirect civil contempt must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence (i.e. more likely than not to be true). Because criminal contempt is a crime, it must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, a higher standard of proof than civil contempt.
A Petition for Rule to Show Cause is the mechanism for one party to a civil or criminal case to initiate a hearing against the other party for contempt of court. The full title of the document is: “Petition for Rule to Show Cause Why the Respondent Should not be Held in Contempt of Court.” The Rule to Show Cause will lay out allegations of the other party’s (“the respondent”) behavior that constitutes contempt and request that the court issue an order holding the respondent in contempt of court.
The Petition for Rule to Show Cause must be personally served upon the respondent by certified mail, sheriff or special process server along with a notice informing the respondent of the hearing date. At the hearing date, the petitioner will present evidence of the respondent’s contemptuous behavior, and the respondent will have an opportunity to respond.