Contempt of Court Statutes Click on a statute title for the full text.
§ 5A-11. Criminal contempt
(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), each of the following is criminal contempt:
(1) Willful behavior committed during the sitting of a court and directly tending to interrupt its proceedings.
(2) Willful behavior committed during the sitting of a court in its immediate view and presence and directly tending to impair the respect due its authority.
(3) Willful disobedience of, resistance to, or interference with a court’s lawful process, order, directive, or instruction or its execution.
(4) Willful refusal to be sworn or affirmed as a witness, or, when so sworn or affirmed, willful refusal to answer any legal and proper question when the refusal is not legally justified.
(5) Willful publication of a report of the proceedings in a court that is grossly inaccurate and presents a clear and present danger of imminent and serious threat to the administration of justice, made with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false. No person, however, may be punished for publishing a truthful report of proceedings in a court.
(6) Willful or grossly negligent failure by an officer of the court to perform his duties in an official transaction.
(7) Willful or grossly negligent failure to comply with schedules and practices of the court resulting in substantial interference with the business of the court.
(8) Willful refusal to testify or produce other information upon the order of a judge acting pursuant to Article 61 of Chapter 15A, Granting of Immunity to Witnesses.
(9) Willful communication with a juror in an improper attempt to influence his deliberations.
(9a) Willful refusal by a defendant to comply with a condition of probation.
(10) Any other act or omission specified elsewhere in the General Statutes of North Carolina as grounds for criminal contempt.
The grounds for criminal contempt specified here are exclusive, regardless of any other grounds for criminal contempt which existed at common law.
(b) No person may be held in contempt under this section on the basis of the content of any broadcast, publication, or other communication unless it presents a clear and present danger of an imminent and serious threat to the administration of criminal justice.
(c) This section is subject to the provisions of G.S. 7A-276.1, Court orders prohibiting publication or broadcast of reports of open court proceedings or reports of public records banned.
§ 5A-12. Punishment; circumstances for fine or imprisonment; reduction of punishment; other measures
(a) A person who commits criminal contempt, whether direct or indirect, is subject to censure, imprisonment up to 30 days, fine not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500.00), or any combination of the three, except that a person who commits a contempt described in G.S. 5A-11(8) is subject to censure, imprisonment not to exceed 6 months, fine not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500.00), or any combination of the three and a person who has not been arrested who fails to comply with a nontestimonial identification order, issued pursuant to Article 14 of G.S. 15A is subject to censure, imprisonment not to exceed 90 days, fine not to exceed five hundred dollars ($500.00), or any combination of the three.
(b) Except for contempt under G.S. 5A-11(5) or 5A-11(9), fine or imprisonment may not be imposed for criminal contempt, whether direct or indirect, unless:
(1) The act or omission was willfully contemptuous; or
(2) The act or omission was preceded by a clear warning by the court that the conduct is improper.
(c) The judicial official who finds a person in contempt may at any time withdraw a censure, terminate or reduce a sentence of imprisonment, or remit or reduce a fine imposed as punishment for contempt if warranted by the conduct of the contemnor and the ends of justice.
(d) A person held in criminal contempt under this Article shall not, for the same conduct, be found in civil contempt under Article 2 of this Chapter, Civil Contempt.
(e) A person held in criminal contempt under G.S. 5A-11(9) may nevertheless, for the same conduct, be found guilty of a violation of G.S. 14-225.1, but he must be given credit for any imprisonment resulting from the contempt.
§ 5A-13. Direct and indirect criminal contempt; proceedings required
(a) Criminal contempt is direct criminal contempt when the act:
(1) Is committed within the sight or hearing of a presiding judicial official; and
(2) Is committed in, or in immediate proximity to, the room where proceedings are being held before the court; and
(3) Is likely to interrupt or interfere with matters then before the court.
The presiding judicial official may punish summarily for direct criminal contempt according to the requirements of G.S. 5A-14 or may defer adjudication and sentencing as provided in G.S. 5A-15. If proceedings for direct criminal contempt are deferred, the judicial official must, immediately following the conduct, inform the person of his intention to institute contempt proceedings.
(b) Any criminal contempt other than direct criminal contempt is indirect criminal contempt and is punishable only after proceedings in accordance with the procedure required by G.S. 5A-15.
§ 5A-14. Summary proceedings for contempt
(a) The presiding judicial official may summarily impose measures in response to direct criminal contempt when necessary to restore order or maintain the dignity and authority of the court and when the measures are imposed substantially contemporaneously with the contempt.
(b) Before imposing measures under this section, the judicial official must give the person charged with contempt summary notice of the charges and a summary opportunity to respond and must find facts supporting the summary imposition of measures in response to contempt. The facts must be established beyond a reasonable doubt.
§ 5A-15. Plenary proceedings for contempt
(a) When a judicial official chooses not to proceed summarily against a person charged with direct criminal contempt or when he may not proceed summarily, he may proceed by an order directing the person to appear before a judge at a reasonable time specified in the order and show cause why he should not be held in contempt of court. A copy of the order must be furnished to the person charged. If the criminal contempt is based upon acts before a judge which so involve him that his objectivity may reasonably be questioned, the order must be returned before a different judge.
(b) Proceedings under this section are before a district court judge unless a court superior to the district court issued the order, in which case the proceedings are before that court. Venue lies throughout the district court district as defined in G.S. 7A-133 or superior court district or set of districts as defined in G.S. 7A-41.1, as the case may be, where the order was issued.
(c) The person ordered to show cause may move to dismiss the order.
(d) The judge is the trier of facts at the show cause hearing.
(e) The person charged with contempt may not be compelled to be a witness against himself in the hearing.
(f) At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge must enter a finding of guilty or not guilty. If the person is found to be in contempt, the judge must make findings of fact and enter judgment. The facts must be established beyond a reasonable doubt.
(g) The judge presiding over the hearing may appoint a prosecutor or, in the event of an apparent conflict of interest, some other member of the bar to represent the court in hearings for criminal contempt.
§ 5A-16. Custody of person charged with criminal contempt
(a) A judicial official may orally order that a person he is charging with direct criminal contempt be taken into custody and restrained to the extent necessary to assure his presence for summary proceedings or notice of plenary proceedings.
(b) If a judicial official who initiates plenary proceedings for contempt under G.S. 5A-15 finds, based on sworn statement or affidavit, probable cause to believe the person ordered to appear will not appear in response to the order, he may issue an order for arrest of the person, pursuant to G.S. 15A-305. A person arrested under this subsection is entitled to release under the provisions of Article 26, Bail, of Chapter 15A of the General Statutes.
§ 5A-21. Civil contempt; imprisonment to compel compliance
(a) Failure to comply with an order of a court is a continuing civil contempt as long as:
(1) The order remains in force;
(2) The purpose of the order may still be served by compliance with the order;
(2a) The noncompliance by the person to whom the order is directed is willful; and
(3) The person to whom the order is directed is able to comply with the order or is able to take reasonable measures that would enable the person to comply with the order.
(b) A person who is found in civil contempt may be imprisoned as long as the civil contempt continues, subject to the limitations provided in subsections (b1) and (b2) of this section. Notwithstanding subsection (b2) of this section, if a person is found in civil contempt for failure to pay child support or failure to comply with a court order to perform an act that does not require the payment of a monetary judgment, the person may be imprisoned as long as the civil contempt continues without further hearing.
(b1) A person who is found in civil contempt, but was not arrested, for failure to comply with a nontestimonial identification order issued pursuant to Article 14, Nontestimonial Identification Order, of Chapter 15A of the General Statutes may not be imprisoned more than 90 days unless the person is arrested on probable cause.
(b2) The period of imprisonment for a person found in civil contempt shall not exceed 90 days for the same act of disobedience or refusal to comply with an order of the court. A person who has not purged himself or herself of the contempt within the period of imprisonment imposed by the court under this subsection may be recommitted for one or more successive periods of imprisonment, each not to exceed 90 days. However, the total period of imprisonment for the same act of disobedience or refusal to comply with the order of the court shall not exceed 12 months, including both the initial period of imprisonment imposed under this section and any additional period of imprisonment imposed under this subsection. Before the court may recommit a person to any additional period of imprisonment under this subsection, the court shall conduct a hearing de novo. The court must enter a finding for or against the alleged contemnor on each of the elements of G.S. 5A-21(a), and must find that all of elements of G.S. 5A-21(a) continue to exist before the person can be recommitted. For purposes of this subsection, a person’s failure or refusal to purge himself or herself of contempt shall not be deemed a separate or additional act of disobedience, failure, or refusal to comply with an order of the court.
(c) A person who is found in civil contempt under this Article shall not, for the same conduct, be found in criminal contempt under Article 1 of this Chapter.
§ 5A-22. Release when civil contempt no longer continues
(a) A person imprisoned for civil contempt must be released when his civil contempt no longer continues. The order of the court holding a person in civil contempt must specify how the person may purge himself of the contempt. Upon finding compliance with the specifications, the sheriff or other officer having custody may release the person without a further order from the court.
(b) On motion of the contemnor, the court must determine if he is subject to release and, on an affirmative determination, order his release. The motion must be directed to the judge who found civil contempt unless he is not available. Then the motion must be made to a judge of the same division in the same district court district as defined in G.S. 7A-133 or superior court district or set of districts as defined in G.S. 7A-41.1, as the case may be. The contemnor may also seek his release under other procedures available under the law of this State.
§ 5A-23. Proceedings for civil contempt
(a) Proceedings for civil contempt are by motion pursuant to G.S. 5A-23(a1), by the order of a judicial official directing the alleged contemnor to appear at a specified reasonable time and show cause why he should not be held in civil contempt, or by the notice of a judicial official that the alleged contemnor will be held in contempt unless he appears at a specified reasonable time and shows cause why he should not be held in contempt. The order or notice must be given at least five days in advance of the hearing unless good cause is shown. The order or notice may be issued on the motion and sworn statement or affidavit of one with an interest in enforcing the order, including a judge, and a finding by the judicial official of probable cause to believe there is civil contempt.
(a1) Proceedings for civil contempt may be initiated by motion of an aggrieved party giving notice to the alleged contemnor to appear before the court for a hearing on whether the alleged contemnor should be held in civil contempt. A copy of the motion and notice must be served on the alleged contemnor at least five days in advance of the hearing unless good cause is shown. The motion must include a sworn statement or affidavit by the aggrieved party setting forth the reasons why the alleged contemnor should be held in civil contempt. The burden of proof in a hearing pursuant to this subsection shall be on the aggrieved party.
(b) Except when the General Statutes specifically provide for the exercise of contempt power by the clerk of superior court, proceedings under this section are before a district court judge, unless a court superior to the district court issued the order in which case the proceedings are before that court. When the proceedings are before a superior court, venue is in the superior court district or set of districts as defined in G.S. 7A-41.1 of the court which issued the order. Otherwise, venue is in the county where the order was issued.
(c) The person ordered to show cause may move to dismiss the order.
(d) The judicial official is the trier of facts at the show cause hearing.
(e) At the conclusion of the hearing, the judicial official must enter a finding for or against the alleged contemnor on each of the elements set out in G.S. 5A-21(a). If civil contempt is found, the judicial official must enter an order finding the facts constituting contempt and specifying the action which the contemnor must take to purge himself or herself of the contempt.
(f) A person with an interest in enforcing the order may present the case for a finding of civil contempt for failure to comply with an order.
(g) A person who is found in civil contempt under this Article shall not, for the same conduct, be found in criminal contempt under Article 1 of this Chapter.
§ 5A-24. Appeals
A person found in civil contempt may appeal in the manner provided for appeals in civil actions.
§ 5A-25. Proceedings as for contempt and civil contempt
Whenever the laws of North Carolina call for proceedings as for contempt, the proceedings are those for civil contempt set out in this Article.