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Contempt & Disorder of Court
PC 166 & 166(A)(4)-M Law & Defense

Information on the crime of contempt of court is found at penal code section 166(a). There are two types of contempt of court: Civil Contempt and criminal contempt. 

Civil contempt attempt of court has to do with remedies that compel a person to comply with a  previous court order. For example, a defendant can be fined a monetary sanction for everyday she refuses to obey a court order, such as deliver certain evidence documents to an opposing party. Criminal contempt has to do with punishing a person for her willful failure to obey a court order.


As stated, civil contempt does not seek to punish a person; therefore, certain criminal procedure rights, such as the right to a jury trial in any proceeding where a person can lose his or her liberty, do not apply. On the other hand, criminal contempt of court aims to punish a person, including placing the defendant in jail for her willful disobedience of a court order; therefore, in criminal contempt of court proceedings, criminal procedural rights apply.


Note: Sometimes, a civil contempt order will make the defendant serve a jail sentence only as long as he or she does not comply with the court order. In this case, criminal procedural rights to do not apply because the defendant holds the keys to his own release as by simply complying with the court order.

Also, criminal contempt of court may stem from civil or criminal proceedings. For example, in family law court, if the defendant does not obey a court order to pay child support, the defendant may be held in criminal contempt even though the court proceedings was a civil proceeding.

This page seeks to answer questions regarding the law, the punishment, and the defenses associated with criminal contempt. For more information on either criminal contempt or civil contempt of court, contact our criminal defense lawyers for a free consultation.

There are two main criminal contempt charges:

  • PC 166(a)(1) Creating a disturbance or noise in court to purposefully interrupt the court proceedings, and

  • PC 166(a)(4) Willful failure to follow court orders or willful fail to swear in as a witness or answer questions without a legal exemption

Sentence for Contempt

Criminal contempt of court charged under either PC 166(a)(1) or 166(a)(4) is charged as a misdemeanor. If found guilty of either PC 166(a)(1) or 166(a)(4), the defendant could face up to six months in county jail for each violation.

For example, if the defendant willfully fails to pay spousal support for three months, after being ordered to do so by a family law judge, the defendant could face up to six months in jail for each violation.

In addition to any possible jail sentence, if found guilty of criminal contempt of court, the defendant may be punished with any or all of the following: probation, order to pay court fees and fines, suffer adverse consequences with a professional license, suffer adverse consequences with immigration status (for non-U.S. citizens), lose rights in family court, such as child visitation,be ordered to pay attorney fees for prosecution of contempt on family court,and more.

Defense to Contempt

Common defenses to a charge of criminal contempt include, but are not limited to: insufficient evidence to prove that the defendant willfully disobeyed a court ordered (i.e. willing, but unable to comply with the court's order), ambiguity in the court order (i.e. unclear court order, such as "make efforts to find employment" in family law court), mistake of fact, statute of limitations, and more.


Purging the Contempt: To purge the contempt means to vacate, or undue, the contemptuous action, by apologizing and complying with the court's original order, along with some new order that mitigates the risk that the defendant will again fail to comply with the court's order. This is most common in family law court, where incarcerating the defendant will lead to a harm against the person that the court's first order was designed to protect.


For example, in a family law case, a defendant who willfully disobeys a court order to pay monthly spousal support payments for six months, could be allowed to comply with the order, and thereby avoid a contempt of court charge, by allowing the defendant to pay all six months of missed supports payments (original court order) within 30 days (new court order), to his or her ex spouse (the person that the original order was designed to benefit). In this situation, If the court were to incarcerated the defendant for contempt, as opposed to allowing him or her to purge the contempt, then the person who the original order was designed to protect (the ex spouse) could lose all spousal support because the defendant would be in jail and unable to pay any spousal support.

If you have been charged with criminal contempt of court under PC 166(a)(1) or 166(a)(4), contact our criminal defense attorneys today for a free consultation. Our experienced attorneys are available every day of the week to answer all of your questions and to discuss your defense options. Call today!


Quick Legal Reference​

Crime: Disobey a Court Order

Code: PC 166(a)(4) (CalCrim No. 2700 & 2701)

Wobbler: No. PC 166(a)(4) is not a wobbler. This means that PC 166(a)(4) is charged only as a misdemeanor.​


Incarceration: ​PC 166(a)(4)  jail sentence up to 180 days.

Probation: Probation may be available in PC 166(a)(4) cases (assuming other crimes or enhancements that bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by the court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.​

Work Release or House Arrest: In some cases, a probation sentence can include actual in-custody county jail, house arrest (electronic monitoring), or work release (or some combination of these penalties); however, most in-custody jail sentence orders that are required as a terms of probation are much shorter than the maximum jail sentence.

Strike: PC 166(a)(4) is not a strike offense listed in California's Three Strikes law.

Credits: 50% good conduct credits available.

CIMT: PC 166(a)(4) is not a crime involving moral turpitude.


Bail: $5,000 (San Bernardino County)

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Related Crimes

  • PC 166(a)(1) Contempt of court with injury

  • PC 166(a)(4) Disobedience of court order

  • PC 166(c)(1) Violation of protective/stay away order

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