Criminal Contempt and Related Charges

Article 215 contains a wide variety of criminal charges designed to protect the integrity of the judicial process from undue influence, intimidation, disregard, or interference.

The two most common criminal charges in this chapter are Criminal Contempt and Bail Jumping. Misdemeanor Bail Jumping occurs when a person has been released from custody – either upon bail or upon his own recognizance – upon condition that he subsequently appear personally in connection with a criminal action or proceeding, and when he does not appear personally on the required date or voluntarily within thirty days thereafter (Third Degree, PL 215.55). This crime becomes a Class E felony if the pending criminal action is a felony (Second Degree, PL 215.56), and a Class D felony if the pending criminal action is a Class B or Class A felony (First Degree, PL 215.57). Thus, even if a defendant misses his court date, he is not guilty of this crime if he appears before the court in connection with his case within thirty days. (On the other hand, his failure to appear in court on the scheduled date may result in a change of his bail terms and thus could result in his being taken back into custody by the court.) Defendants should take heed that these charges are incredibly easy for prosecutors to prove and typically result in additional jail time being added on as a consecutive sentence to whatever sentence they receive on their underlying criminal charges.

The crime of Criminal Contempt can be committed in many different ways (including various forms of noisily interfering with court proceedings), but is most commonly charged in cases where the terms of a court-ordered Order of Protection have been violated. Typically, in domestic violence cases or other cases involving civilian victims with relationships to the defendants, courts will issue Orders of Protection that direct the defendants to stay away from the victims and/or refrain from communicating with them in any way. If and when defendants violate the terms of those Orders, they can be charged with Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree (PL 215.50), which prohibits the “[i]ntentional disobedience or resistance to the lawful process or other mandate of a court…” Also, Criminal Contempt in the First Degree (PL 215.51) basically makes it a Class E felony to commit an intimidating crime (such as threats, menacing or assault) against the victim in violation of an order of protection. Finally, a person is guilty of Aggravated Criminal Contempt (PL 215.52, a Class D felony) if they intentionally or recklessly cause physical injury to a person in violation of an order of protection or if they commit one of these forms of Criminal Contempt and have been previously convicted of it in the preceding five years.

Not surprisingly, the Penal Law also makes it a crime to bribe, intimidate or tamper with a witness or a juror, or for a witness or juror to receive a bribe from another. The charges relating to intimidating and tampering with witnesses or jurors become more serious as the threat of physical injury – or the infliction of physical injury – becomes more serious.

Finally, Article 215 of the Penal Law includes a charge for Failing to Respond to an Appearance Ticket (PL 215.58). Similar to Bail Jumping, a person is guilty of this violation if they fail to appear in court within thirty days of their scheduled appearance in connection with an appearance ticket. Thus, a person who chooses to simply ignore an appearance ticket could find himself hauled into court on a bench warrant and charged with a violation of this section.

Key Penal Law Provisions:

  • Bribing a witness, PL 215.00, a class D felony
  • Bribe receiving by a witness, PL 215.05, a class D felony
  • Tampering with a witness in the fourth degree, PL 215.10, a class A misdemeanor
  • Tampering with a witness in the third degree, PL 215.11, a class E felony
  • Tampering with a witness in the second degree, PL 215.12, a class D felony
  • Tampering with a witness in the first degree, PL 215.13, a class B felony
  • Intimidating a victim or witness in the third degree, PL 215.15, a class E felony
  • Intimidating a victim or witness in the second degree, PL 215.16, a class D felony
  • Intimidating a victim or witness in the first degree, PL 215.17, a class B felony
  • Bribing a juror, PL 215.19, a class D felony
  • Bribe receiving by a juror, PL 215.20, a class D felony
  • Tampering with a juror in the second degree, PL 215.23, a class B misdemeanor
  • Tampering with a juror in the first degree, PL 215.25, a class A misdemeanor
  • Misconduct by a juror in the second degree, PL 215.30, a violation
  • Misconduct by a juror in the first degree, PL 215.35, a class A misdemeanor
  • Criminal contempt in the second degree, PL 215.50, a class A misdemeanor
  • Criminal contempt in the first degree, PL 215.51, a class E felony
  • Aggravated criminal contempt, PL 215.52, a class D felony
  • Bail jumping in the third degree, PL 215.55, a class A misdemeanor
  • Bail jumping in the second degree, PL 215.56, a class E felony
  • Bail jumping in the first degree, PL 215.57, a class D felony
  • Failing to respond to an appearance ticket, PL 215.58, a violation