Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve surely caught wind of the viral news story about Miami’s bad girl du jour: the foul-mouthed, bird-flipping teen Penelope Soto. Here’s a recap of the infamous February 2013 courtroom incident: Ms. Soto appeared before a Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge on drug possession charges. When the judge asked her if she had consumed any drugs in the last 24 hours, Soto laughed and then said “adios” after her bail was set at $5,000. In response to her flippancy, the judge raised her bond to $10,000. Soto asked, “Are you serious? To which the judge replied, “I am serious. Adios.” Then Soto gave the judge the finger and shouted an expletive at him. The judge asked Soto, “Did you say, “f*** me?” She confirmed that she did and then the judge found her in criminal contempt of court and sentenced her to 30 days in county jail. If you want to see a video of Soto’s shenanigans, click here.
So what exactly is contempt of court? Well, generally speaking, contempt of court is an act of disobedience or disrespect towards the judiciary or an interference with its orderly process. In Florida, contempt of court can be categorized as either civil or criminal and both types of contempt can occur in both civil and criminal proceedings. Additionally, criminal contempt of court can be further broken down into two subtypes: direct criminal contempt of court and indirect criminal contempt of court. Here’s a summary of each type of contempt of court in Florida and an example of each:
- Civil Contempt of Court: Civil contempt of court is the failure to do something a civil court or judge orders for the benefit of the opposing party in a case. Unlike criminal contempt which is a crime, civil contempt is neither a felony nor a misdemeanor but is a power possessed by the courts. The classic example of civil contempt of court occurs in child support cases where a party who is both aware of his or her child support obligation under a court decree and has the means to fulfill the obligation but nevertheless does not make his or her required support payments. In such a case, the party may be held in civil contempt of court until he or she makes the required child support payments.
- Criminal Contempt of Court: In general, criminal contempt of court is conduct that tends to hinder, embarrass, or obstruct the administration of justice or conduct which is calculated to lessen the court’s authority or dignity. Unlike civil contempt of court, criminal contempt of court is a crime. It can stand on its own as a separate charge from the underlying case.
- Direct Criminal Contempt of Court: Direct criminal contempt of court occurs when the contemptuous conduct is committed in the actual presence of the judge. Penelope Soto saying “f*** you” to her judge and giving him the finger is an example of direct criminal contempt of court.
- Indirect Criminal Contempt of Court: Indirect criminal contempt of court involves contemptuous conduct that occurs outside of the presence of the judge. An example of indirect criminal contempt of court would be when a person destroys or conceals evidence to prevent authorities from seizing it.
If you have been charged with any type of contempt of court in South Florida, you should immediately consult with an experienced South Florida criminal defense attorney to learn more about your rights, defenses, and this often complicated area of law. The Miami criminal attorneys and Fort Lauderdale criminal attorneys at the South Florida law firm of Galanter Law have the requisite experience and knowledge to help represent you in contempt of court charges as well any underlying criminal charges.
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