Criminal Contempt – Penal Law Sections 215.50, 215.51, 215.52

Posted By Galluzzo & Arnone LLP || 19-Oct-2012

Criminal Contempt charges are very serious and can be quite difficult to defend against in some circumstances. The overwhelming majority of the Criminal Contempt cases pursued by prosecutors involve violations of orders of protection, and usually are classified as “domestic violence,” meaning that the complainant and defendant are or were in some sort of romantic or familial relationship.

The least serious of these Criminal Contempt charges is Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree, Penal Law § 215.50, a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. The statute reads as follows:

	A person is guilty of criminal contempt in the second degree when he engages
	 in any of the following conduct: 1. Disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent
	 behavior, committed during the sitting of a court, in its immediate view
	 and presence and directly tending to interrupt its proceedings or to impair
	 the respect due to its authority; or 2. Breach of the peace, noise, or
	 other disturbance, directly tending to interrupt a court's proceedings;
	 or 3. Intentional disobedience or resistance to the lawful process or
	 other mandate of a court except in cases involving or growing out of labor
	 disputes as defined by subdivision two of section seven hundred fifty-three-a
	 of the judiciary law; or 4. Contumacious and unlawful refusal to be sworn
	 as a witness in any court proceeding or, after being sworn, to answer
	 any legal and proper interrogatory; or 5. Knowingly publishing a false
	 or grossly inaccurate report of a court's proceedings; or 6. Intentional
	 failure to obey any mandate, process or notice, issued pursuant to articles
	 sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, or eighteen-a of the judiciary law, or to
	 rules adopted pursuant to any such statute or to any special statute establishing
	 commissioners of jurors and prescribing their duties or who refuses to
	 be sworn as provided therein; or 7. On or along a public street or sidewalk
	 within a radius of two hundred feet of any building established as a courthouse,
	 he calls aloud, shouts, holds or displays placards or signs containing
	 written or printed matter, concerning the conduct of a trial being held
	 in such courthouse or the character of the court or jury engaged in such
	 trial or calling for or demanding any specified action or determination
	 by such court or jury in connection with such trial.

The most relevant subsection of the above statute is 3, as prosecutions under the other subsections are exceedingly rare. It is this subsection that is used to prosecute violations of orders of protection, in that an order of protection is a “lawful mandate of a court”. Prosecutors typically prove violations of orders of protection by demonstrating that the defendant against whom an order of protection was in effect made contact in person, over the telephone, or via text message or email, with the person protected by the order. These cases can be especially strong for a prosecutor because oftentimes the cooperation of the complaining witness is not even necessary to prove the violation. After all, the prosecutor can sometimes introduce violating emails or telephone records or text messages without calling the complainant as a witness – representatives of the phone company or internet service provider can introduce these records as “business records.”

Sometimes, police officers or third party witnesses discover the complainants and defendants voluntarily being together (even living together) in violation of an order of protection. In these cases, the defendant can be arrested and convicted even if the complainant witness explains that she invited the defendant over to see her. This is because the complaining witness does not have the power or authority to negate an order of protection – only a judge can do that. Thus, a prosecutor can convict a defendant for violating an order of protection – and send him to jail – even in cases in which the complainant badly wishes the defendant not to be convicted. Similarly, a defendant is not legally allowed to respond to a protected complainant via telephone, email or text, even if the complainant reaches out to him and begs him to respond.

The charges can be especially serious when defendants attempt to intimidate, assault or menace the people protected by orders of protection. For example, Criminal Contempt in the First Degree, Penal Law Section 215.51, makes it a felony – punishable by state prison in excess of one year – where a defendant:

	intentionally places or attempts to place a person for whose protection
	 such order was issued in reasonable fear of physical injury, serious physical
	 injury or death by displaying a deadly weapon, dangerous instrument or
	 what appears to be a pistol, revolver, rifle, shotgun, machine gun or
	 other firearm or by means of a threat or threats; or (ii) intentionally
	 places or attempts to place a person for whose protection such order was
	 issued in reasonable fear of physical injury, serious physical injury
	 or death by repeatedly following such person or engaging in a course of
	 conduct or repeatedly committing acts over a period of time; or (iii)
	 intentionally places or attempts to place a person for whose protection
	 such order was issued in reasonable fear of physical injury, serious physical
	 injury or death when he or she communicates or causes a communication
	 to be initiated with such person by mechanical or electronic means or
	 otherwise, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, or by telegraph, mail
	 or any other form of written communication; or (iv) with intent to harass,
	 annoy, threaten or alarm a person for whose protection such order was
	 issued, repeatedly makes telephone calls to such person, whether or not
	 a conversation ensues, with no purpose of legitimate communication; or
	 (v) with intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm a person for whose
	 protection such order was issued, strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise
	 subjects such other person to physical contact or attempts or threatens
	 to do the same; or (vi) by physical menace, intentionally places or attempts
	 to place a person for whose protection such order was issued in reasonable
	 fear of death, imminent serious physical injury or physical injury.

A defendant can be charged with the even more serious Class D felony of Aggravated Criminal Contempt (Penal Law § 215.52) when he actually causes physically injury to someone protected by an order of protection. Specifically, a person is guilty of this crime where:

	1. in violation of a duly served order of protection, or such order of
	 which the defendant has actual knowledge because he or she was present
	 in court when such order was issued, or an order of protection issued
	 by a court of competent jurisdiction in another state, territorial or
	 tribal jurisdiction, he or she intentionally or recklessly causes physical
	 injury or serious physical injury to a person for whose protection such
	 order was issued;

In addition to the potential jail sentences, convictions for Criminal Contempt can have other serious consequences for defendants. First and foremost, judges routinely set very high bail for defendants with convictions for Criminal Contempt on their “rap sheets” (criminal records). Also, people previously convicted of Criminal Contempt can face more serious “bump-up” felony charges if they are charged again with Criminal Contempt (see Penal Law Section 215.51[c] and Penal Law Sections 251.52[2] and [3]).

If you or a loved one have been accused of Criminal Contempt, you should strongly consider contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately.

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