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2. Criminal contempt


  • 1st Circuit

    Generally, 28 U.S.C. §1826(a) provides that where a witness to any proceeding before or ancillary to a court or grand jury refuses without just cause to testify or provide other information, including documents, the witness may be jailed for no longer than the life of the court proceeding or the term of the grand jury, including extensions, but in no event, for longer than eighteen months. Any appeal of such order of confinement must be disposed of as soon as practicable but not later than thirty days from the filing of the appeal.

    Journalists have been sentenced to confinement in the First Circuit. In In re Special Proceedings, 33 Med. L. Rep. 1033, 1041(D.R.I. 2004), a reporter, held in criminal contempt for refusing to name the source from whom he had acquired a videotape subject to a protective order in a federal bribery case, was sentenced to six months home confinement. Because the federal sentencing guidelines do not prescribe a sentence for criminal contempt, the judge referenced the closest analog, 15 to 21 months for obstruction of justice. Id., at 1039. Although the court stressed the seriousness of the offense, stating that it “strikes at the heart of the rule of law,” the court showed leniency in consideration of the defendant reporter’s serious heart and other related health problems. Id., at 1038-40. Other conditions imposed on the defendant reporter’s confinement included forbidding him from: engaging in any business or profession during the confinement, accessing the internet, participating in any radio or television appearances, and receiving visitors outside of certain prescribed hours. Id. at 1041-42.

    Because a fine for criminal contempt is intended to be punitive, as opposed to compensatory, the amount of the fine need not be commensurate with the victim’s loss. United States v. Kouri-Perez, 187 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 1999).

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  • 2nd Circuit

    There are very few cases in which a reporter has been held in criminal contempt for not revealing information. In Garland v. Torre, 259 F.2d 545 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 358 U.S. 910 (1958), a reporter allegedly libeled actress Judy Garland. The reporter refused to reveal her source, and she was held in criminal contempt. The main justification for compelling disclosure and levying criminal contempt was that the reporter's source was essential to Garland's libel claim.

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  • 3rd Circuit

    Courts in the Third Circuit do not appear to have expressly addressed this point in a relevant context.

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  • 4th Circuit

    The court never specifies whether the contempt order in Shain  was criminal or civil. Shain, 978 F.2d at 852. The fixed jail sentence is more indicative of a criminal contempt finding; however, the failure to impose the remainder of the sentence when the contempt order was affirmed on appeal indicates the Fourth Circuit considered the order to be civil and mooted upon resolution of the underlying suit. There are no other cases in the Fourth Circuit in which a reporter has been found in criminal contempt for failure to disclose sources or information.

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  • 5th Circuit

    A court may seek to punish an individual for failing to comply with a subpoena by holding the individual in criminal contempt. Importantly, if the reporter's privilege applies to the underlying subpoena, it is not constitutional to hold a reporter in criminal contempt while the state determines whether the information it seeks may be obtained from other sources. Lenhart v. Thomas, 944 F. Supp. 525, 531 (S.D. Tex. 1996). In Lenhart, the court reversed the state court's order that a reporter be incarcerated until she was willing to testify because the subpoenaing party did not exhaust alternative means of obtaining the information. Id.

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  • 6th Circuit

    No federal courts in the Sixth Circuit have imposed criminal contempt upon journalists who refused to comply with subpoenas. In general, a defiant flouting of a court order in the presence of the court may lead to criminal contempt.

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  • 7th Circuit

    There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue.

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  • 8th Circuit

    No Eighth circuit case law addresses this issue in the context of the reporter's privilege.

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  • 9th Circuit

    There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue.

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  • Alabama

    There is no Alabama statutory or reported case law addressing this issue.

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  • Alaska

    Alaska appellate courts have not had occasion to squarely address the existence or scope of a reporter's privilege. Various trial courts have recognized and applied the qualified constitutional privilege in a number of cases, and in none of these has testimony or production of documents been compelled.

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  • Arizona

    The authors of this outline are aware of no instance in which any criminal contempt sanctions have been imposed on reporters in Arizona for failing to comply with a valid, upheld subpoena.

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  • Arkansas

    The purpose of criminal contempt is to preserve the power of the court and vindicate its dignity, and punish a person for disobeying a court order. See Johnson v. Johnson, 343 Ark. 186, 33 S.W.3d 492 (2000). The criminal contempt statute, Ark. Code Ann. § 16-10-108(b)(1), states that the punishments for a criminal contempt citation “is a class C misdemeanor” which carries a maximum sentence of thirty days and a maximum fine of $500.00.  See Ark. Code Ann. §§ 5-4-201, -401.   There are no reported cases where a reporter has been subject to a criminal contempt citation in Arkansas.

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  • California

    California Penal Code § 166 authorizes a trial court to punish as a misdemeanor certain actions that constitute contempt of court. However, no reported California case has applied this provision to a reporter for refusing to comply with a subpoena. In addition, the California Supreme Court has directed trial courts to stay contempt orders pending appeal to avoid unnecessary confinement of the reporter. New York Times Co. v. Superior Court, 51 Cal. 3d 453, 460, 796 P.2d 811, 273 Cal. Rptr. 98 (1990).

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  • Colorado

    In Colorado, criminal contempt is determined by whether the sanctions are punitive or remedial. Punitive sanctions are defined under Rule 107(a)(4) as "[p]unishment by unconditional fine, fixed sentence of imprisonment, or both, for conduct that is found to be offensive to the authority and the dignity of the court." Punitive sanctions may be combined with remedial sanctions.

    Before a punitive sanction can be enforced there must be notice, the appointment of a special prosecutor, and a hearing. Rule 107(c), (d)(1). For all intents and purposes, the hearing is similar to a criminal trial in that the accused has, among other things, the right to counsel, the right to a jury trial, the right to enter a plea and the presumption of innocence. See, generally, Knapp, Colorado Civil Procedure Forms and Commentary, §§ 107.12.-15.

    The individual charged with contempt is permitted a jury trial if the sentence imposed is more than six months. Rule 107(d)(1), People v. Barron, 677 P.2d 1370, 1374, n. 4 (Colo. App. 1984). If a jury trial is conducted, there is no specific limit to the prison sentence, but if there is no jury trial, the maximum sentence is 180 days. Id. There must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Harthun v. District Court, 495 P.2d 539 (Colo. 1972).

    Colorado courts urge trial judges to use the contempt power "with caution and self restraint to protect the rights of litigants and he administration of justice, not to protect [the court's] dignity." Estate of Elliot, 993 P.2d 474, 478 (Colo. 2000).

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  • Connecticut

    There are no reported cases of the imposition of criminal contempt sanctions on a media person.

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  • D.C. Circuit

    The district court is imbued with great discretion in fashioning an appropriate criminal contempt sanction.  United States v. United Mine Workers, 330 U.S. 258 (1947).  Nevertheless, case law suggests that if a court proceeds without a jury in a criminal contempt proceeding, it can impose no more than 90 days of imprisonment on the contemnor.  Rollerson v. United States, 343 F.2d 269 (D.C. Cir. 1964).

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  • Delaware

    Criminal contempt may apply for refusing to testify. 11 Del. C. § 1271. It is punishable by incarceration for a maximum of one year, or a fine not to exceed $2,300. 11 Del. C. § 4206.

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  • District of Columbia

    The statutes addressing the courts’ contempt powers also provide for criminal contempt.  D.C. Code §§ 11-741, 11-944.  Specifically, the statutes provide that “[a]n individual imprisoned for 6 consecutive months for civil contempt for disobedience of an order . . . who continues to disobey such order may be prosecuted for criminal contempt for disobedience of such order at any time before the expiration of the 12-month period that begins on the first day of such individual’s imprisonment. . . .”  D.C. Code §§ 11-741(b)(3)(A), 944(b)(3)(A).  The statutes further provide that the trial of any individual prosecuted for criminal contempt “(1) shall begin not later than 90 days after the date on which such individual is charged with criminal contempt; (2) shall, upon the request of the individual, be a trial by jury; and (3) may not be conducted before the judge who imprisoned the individual for disobedience of an order pursuant to subsection (a)” of the statute.  See D.C. Code §§ 11-741(b)(3)(B), 944(b)(3)(B).

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  • Florida

    Criminal contempt also theoretically is an available remedy for noncompliance with a subpoena once the journalist’s privilege has been unsuccessfully asserted, though the issue has not been addressed by a Florida court since the shield law was enacted in 1998. In 1996, a reporter was found guilty of indirect criminal contempt, fined $500, and sentenced to 70 days in jail. See Kidwell v. McCutcheon, 962 F. Supp. 1477, 1478 (S.D. Fla. 1996). The journalist had refused to answer questions at a deposition at which he was subpoenaed to testify. A circuit court judge had issued the contempt order but had stated that the journalist could purge himself of the contempt by answering the subpoenaing party’s questions within six days. See id. The federal district court, noting the uncertainty in Florida law at the time, stayed imposition of the jail sentence until state court remedies could be exhausted. See id. at 1481. In 1990, another journalist was cited for criminal contempt and sentenced to thirty days in jail for refusing to identify the source that provided a confidential court order. See In re Investigation: Florida Statute 27.04, Subpoena of Roche v. State, 589 So.2d 978, 980 (Fla. 4th DCA 1991). The criminal contempt citation was upheld on appeal. Id.

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  • Georgia

    Since enactment of Georgia's statutory privilege, an order compelling testimony from a non-party reporter has never been upheld on appeal. Accordingly, there are no recent examples of a reporter being held in criminal contempt for continuing to refuse to testify after appeal. In instances of criminal contempt, Georgia courts are authorized by statute to impose a sentence of a fine of no more than $1,000 and/or incarceration of no more than 20 days in jail. O.C.G.A. § 15-7-4. Prior to the enactment of the privilege, a reporter was given a probated sentence requiring that the reporter perform one hundred hours of community service. Vaughn v. State, 259 Ga. 325 (1989).

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  • Hawaii

    Whereas civil contempt is a sanction to enforce compliance with an order of the court or to compensate for losses or damages sustained due to noncompliance, criminal contempt is punitive in purpose. Hawaii Pub. Employment Relations Bd. v. United Pub. Workers, 66 Haw. 461, 667 P.2d 783 (1983); State v. Brown, 70 Haw. 459, 776 P.2d 1182 (1989). To impose sanctions for criminal contempt, intent to disobey a court order is required and must be established beyond a reasonable doubt. Hawaii Pub. Employment Relations Bd., 66 Haw. 461, 667 P.2d 783.

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  • Idaho

    No known cases have resulted in criminal contempt convictions for disobedience of a subpoena.

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  • Illinois

    Although the Statute provides a contempt provision, there are no Illinois cases addressing criminal contempt. The Statute allows the person refusing to comply with an order to disclose the source of the information to be held in contempt of court and punished accordingly. 735 ILCS 5/8-909.

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  • Indiana

    There are no known instances where a reporter has been prosecuted for criminal contempt for disobeying a subpoena. For rules relating to contempt, see Ind. Code Art. 34-47-et seq.

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  • Iowa

    Criminal contempt is punitive and "is indispensable to the protection of due and orderly administration of justice and in maintaining the authority and dignity of the court." Knox, 185 N.W.2d at 707. No reported Iowa case involves a journalist being cited for criminal contempt.

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  • Kansas

    There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue. The author is unaware of any instance in which a criminal contempt conviction against a reporter has been pursued after a civil contempt finding was dissolved.

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  • Kentucky

    No reported decisions.

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  • Louisiana

    In Burns, a reporter was held in contempt of court and imprisoned for refusing to answer questions about the source of his information which related to the existence and details of a confession by a murder defendant.  484 So.2d at 658. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the district court.

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  • Maine

    In State v. Hohler, 543 A.2d 364, 364 (Me. 1988), the Maine Supreme Court affirmed the criminal contempt conviction of a reporter who refused to testify about non-confidential, published information. Criminal contempt proceedings are controlled by Me. R. Crim. P. 42, which in turn cross-references Me. R. Civ. P. 66.

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  • Maryland

    Maryland Rules allow "[t]he court against which a direct civil or criminal contempt has been committed [to impose] sanctions on the person who committed it . . ." Md. R. Other Special Proceedings 15-203(a) (2017).

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  • Massachusetts

    Reporters in Massachusetts have been adjudged in criminal contempt.

    In Commonwealth v. Corsetti, a reporter was held in contempt under Mass. R. Crim. P. 43, which authorizes summary findings of criminal contempt. 438 N.E.2d at 809-10. The court rejected the reporter's argument that Rule 43, which is aimed at punishing for disorderly conduct in the courtroom, did not apply to his claim of privilege. Id.

    A reporter was also found in criminal contempt under Rule 43 in Massachusetts v. McDonald, 6 Med. L. Rep. 2230 (Mass. Super. Ct. 1980). There, the court said: "The Court possesses inherent power summarily to investigate and punish those committing acts tending to obstruct the administration of justice." Id. at 2231.

    Rule 43 allows punishment in the form of imprisonment up to three months or a fine of $500. Rule 44 of the criminal procedure rules covers criminal contempt procedures for non-summary contempt findings.

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  • Michigan

    There have been no appellate cases discussing this precise issue in the reporter subpoena setting.

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  • Minnesota

    "Criminal contempt is imposed to punish an affront to the court's authority." David F. Herr & Robert S. Haydock, 1A Minnesota Practice, Civil Rules Annotated R 37.02, § 37:9 (6th ed., 2017); see also Minn. Stat. § 588.20; Minnesota State Bar Assoc. v. Divorce Assistance Assoc., Inc., 248 N.W.2d 733, 741 (Minn. 1976); State v. Jones, 857 N.W.2d 550, 555 (Minn. App. 2014), aff'd, 869 N.W.2d 24 (Minn. 2015). In the criminal contempt context, unconditional and fixed sentences are allowed. Matter of Welfare of K.E.H., 542 N.W.2d 658, 661 (Minn. App. 1996).

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  • Mississippi

    Conduct directed against the dignity and authority of the court or the judge acting judicially is criminal contempt. Lawson v. State, 573 So. 2d 684, 686 (Miss. 1990). It involves an act "which tends to bring the court into disrepute or disrespect." Lawson, 573 So. 2d at 686 (quoting Cook v. State, 483 So. 2d 371, 374 (Miss. 1986)). Conduct amounting to criminal contempt must be directed against the court or against “a judge acting judicially,” not individually. Culpepper v. State, 516 So. 2d 485, 486 (Miss. 1987).

    Furthermore, criminal contempt penalties are designed to punish for past offenses, and they do not end when the contemnor has complied with the court order. Purvis v. Purvis, 657 So. 2d 794, 796-97 (Miss. 1994) (emphasis added) (citing Common Cause of Mississippi v. Smith, 548 So. 2d 412, 416 (Miss. 1989)).

    Miss. Code Ann. § 11-51-11 states:

    (1) A person ordered by any tribunal, except the Supreme Court, to be punished for a contempt, may appeal to the court to which other cases are appealable from said tribunal. Where the punishment is either a fine only, or jail confinement only, the appeal shall be allowed upon the posting of a bond, payable to the state, with sufficient sureties, not exceeding One Thousand Dollars ($1,000.00), conditioned to abide the results of the appeal. Where the punishment is both a fine and jail confinement, the appeal shall be allowed upon the posting of a bond, not exceeding Two Thousand Dollars ($2,000.00), conditioned to appear in the court to which the appeal is prosecuted and to abide the results of such appeal.

    (2) The amount of the bonds provided for in subsection (1) of this section shall be fixed by the tribunal appealed from, shall be approved by the sheriff or other officer in whose custody the appellant may be and shall not be construed as a limitation on the amount of any fine which may be imposed.

    (3) All appeals allowed in accordance with the provisions of this section shall operate as a supersedeas.

    (4) The burden of proof in criminal contempt shall be proof beyond a reasonable doubt. A contemnor shall not be entitled to a jury trial unless the contemnor requests a jury trial and unless the fine exceeds Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00), or the imprisonment exceeds six (6) months.

    1. Direct Contempt

    Direct contempt involves words spoken or actions committed in the presence of the court that are calculated to embarrass or prevent the orderly administration of justice. Varvaris v. State, 512 So. 2d 886, 887 (Miss. 1987). The direct contemnor may be summarily punished because no evidence other than the court's own knowledge is required as the conduct was committed in the presence of the court. Lamar v. State, 607 So. 2d 129, 130 (Miss. 1992). Direct contempt necessitates an instantaneous response. Varvaris, 512 So. 2d at 888. Although direct contempt may be handled by the sitting judge instantly, it is wise for a judge faced with personal attacks, who waits till the end of the proceedings, to have another judge take his place. Mayberry v. Pennsylvania, 400 U.S. 455, 463-64 (1971); Purvis v. Purvis, 657 So. 2d 794, 797 (Miss. 1994).

    Because direct contempt necessitates an instantaneous response, the distinction between direct and constructive contempt is important in determining the necessary procedural prerequisites to finding an individual in contempt. Purvis, 657 So. 2d at 797.

    1. Constructive Contempt

    Constructive contempt involves actions that are committed beyond the presence of the court. Corr v. State, 97 So. 3d 1211, 1214 (Miss. 2012); Purvis v. Purvis, 657 So. 2d 794, 797 (Miss. 1994); Coleman v. State, 482 So. 2d 221, 222 (Miss. 1986). The Mississippi Supreme Court will normally favor finding that the contemnor's actions involved constructive contempt when there is a legitimate issue as to whether the contemnor has committed constructive or direct contempt since constructive contempt requires a specification of charges, notice and a hearing. Purvis, 657 So. 2d at 797; Wood v. State, 227 So. 2d 288, 290 (Miss. 1969). When determining whether a contemnor has the right to a jury trial, the court must look to the maximum sentence possible under the statute, or to the penalty actually imposed if no punishment is provided by statute. McGowan v. State, 258 So. 2d 801, 802 (Miss. 1972). Because the ability to punish for criminal contempt is derived from the inherent powers of the court and not from statute, Melvin v. State, 48 So. 2d 856 (Miss. 1950), the actual penalty imposed by the trial court must be the focus.

    The correct procedural safeguards required for a charge of constructive contempt are "a specific charge, notice and a hearing." Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Skinner, 119 So. 3d 294, 3301-302 (Miss. 2013); Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Performance v. Byers, 757 So. 2d 961, 970 (Miss. 2000); Purvis, 657 So. 2d at 798. Furthermore, it is necessary to try the individual by another judge in cases of constructive contempt where the trial judge has substantial personal involvement in the prosecution. Varvaris v. State, 512 So.2d 886, 888 (Miss.1987). Where a course of action is aggravated by personal attacks, another judge should be asked to sit at the contempt hearing. Mayberry v. Pennsylvania, 400 U.S. 455, 463-64 (1971); Purvis, 657 So. 2d at 797. See Jeffries v. State, 724 So. 2d 897, 899 (Miss. 1998) (where newspaper reporter was convicted in state court of criminal contempt for publishing article about juvenile record in violation of trial court's order, the court held that reporter's conduct in publishing newspaper article could only form basis for constructive contempt charge, and failure to afford reporter procedural safeguards required for constructive contempt required reversal).

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  • Missouri

    There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue, and no known instances on the state level.

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  • Montana

    This author is aware of no recent instances of criminal contempt being used against a reporter for failure to disclose.

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  • Nebraska

    Criminal contempt sanctions are rarely imposed (and even more rarely upheld on appeal) in Nebraska. It is conceivable that a criminal contempt conviction could be imposed after dissolution of a civil contempt sanction following the end of a trial, when testimony would no longer be relevant. That has not happened in Nebraska, to the author’s knowledge.

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  • Nevada

    NRS 50.195 provides, in part:

    3. A witness disobeying a subpoena issued on the part of a defendant in a criminal action shall also forfeit to the defendant the sum of $100, which may be recovered in a civil action, unless good cause can be shown for the witness’s nonattendance.

    NRS 50.205 provides:

    In case of failure of a witness to attend, the court or officer issuing the subpoena, upon proof of the service thereof and of the failure of the witness, may issue a warrant to the sheriff of the county to arrest the witness and bring the witness before the court or officer where the attendance of the witness was required.

    There appear to be no recent cases in Nevada involving criminal contempt of a reporter.

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  • New Hampshire

    There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue.

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  • New Jersey

    If the matter is brought under an indictment pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-9, contempt is a crime of the fourth degree meaning that maximum fine is $10,000.00 and the maximum prison term is eighteen (18) months. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-3; 2C:43-6.

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  • New Mexico

    No New Mexico law specifically addresses this issue with respect to an unsuccessful assertion of the reporter’s privilege. In general, however, disobedience of a court order can be punished as a criminal contempt, and a fine or a jail sentence can be imposed.

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  • New York

    Since a finding of contempt is a "drastic measure," Oak Beach Inn Corp. v. Babylon Beacon, 464 N.E.2d 967, 62 N.Y.2d 158, 165 (N.Y. 1984), in the case of confidential material, imposition of a fixed criminal contempt sentence on a journalist or news organization is virtually unheard of in New York (at least since the enactment of the Shield Law). The offenses that constitute a criminal contempt are listed in § 750 of New York's Judiciary Law and, in general terms, as one commentator has noted, "a contempt is or becomes criminal when it threatens the power and dignity of the law itself." David D. Siegel, Practice Commentaries, McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated. It is "designed to vindicate and uphold the authority of the judiciary and the penalty is punitive." David D. Siegel, New York Practice § 482. Pursuant to Judiciary Law § 751(1), criminal contempt is punishable "by fine, not exceeding $1000, or by imprisonment, not exceeding 30 days, . . . or both . . . ."

    Generally, imposition of a contempt sentence for refusing to testify subject to a valid subpoena will require a showing of willful defiance, even though § 750 of the Judiciary Law makes no reference to willfulness or intent. Abrams v. N.Y. Found. for the Homeless, 190 A.D.2d 578, 593 N.Y.S.2d. 518 (1st Dep't 1993) (finding that defendant's persistent and willful defiance of Supreme Court's subpoena warranted a finding of contempt.). It is the moving party's burden to establish not only that the subpoena is valid, but that the respondent's non-compliance is deliberate and willful. 21 N.Y. Jur. Contempt § 54.

    While some New York cases have found journalists liable for criminal contempt, typically they have been reversed or were decided prior to the enactment of New York's Shield Law. See section on “Jail” above.

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  • North Carolina

    In general, contempt is "criminal" if the penalty is punitive in nature, such as a jail sentence limited to a definite period of time without possibility of avoidance by the contemnor's performance of an act required by the court or a fine payable to the court rather than to the complainant. Bishop v. Bishop, 90 N.C. App. 499, 369 S.E.2d 106, 109 (1988) (citing Hicks v. Feiock, 485 U.S. 624 (1988)).

    In In re Owens, 128 N.C. App. 577, 496 S.E.2d 592 (N.C. App. 1998), aff'd, 350 N.C. 656, 517 S.E.2d 605 (N.C. 1999), a journalist was sentenced to thirty days in jail for refusing to testify about non-confidential information obtained from non-confidential sources. The trial judge reduced her sentence to two hours and released her. There are no other reported cases in North Carolina of a journalist jailed as a result of a finding of criminal contempt.

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  • North Dakota

    North Dakota has never issued a fixed criminal contempt sentence, because no reporter has ever challenged the application of the North Dakota test for determining disclosure.

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  • Ohio

    Rule 17(G), Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure:

    Failure by any person without adequate excuse to obey a subpoena served upon him may be deemed a contempt of the court or officer issuing the subpoena.

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  • Oklahoma

    Criminal contempt is punishable by fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment in the county jail for up to 6 months or both.  There are no recent examples in Oklahoma of reporters jailed for criminal contempt.

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  • Oregon

    No statutory or case law addressing this issue.

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  • Pennsylvania

    Criminal contempt “is a finding of a specific offense for which a sanction is imposed that does not seek compliance but is a specific punishment for an act done.” Crozer-Chester Med. Ctr. v. Moran, 560 A.2d 133, 136 (Pa. 1989). Because criminal contempt is a crime, it “trigger[s] the essential procedural safeguards that attend criminal proceedings generally.” Commonwealth v. Ashton (In re Donohue), 824 A.2d 1198, 1203 (Pa. Super. 2003).

    “To sustain a conviction for direct criminal contempt . . . there must be proof beyond a reasonable doubt: (1) of misconduct, (2) in the presence of the court, (3) committed with the intent to obstruct the proceedings, (4) that obstructs the administration of justice.” Commonwealth v. Robinson, 166 A.3d 1272, 1277 (Pa. Super. 2017) (citation omitted). In a case of direct criminal contempt – such as where a person refuses to comply with a court order to disclose information while in court – the court may issue a summary punishment without further process due. 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 4132; Commonwealth v. Moody, 125 A.3d 1, 8–9 (Pa. 2015). Due process does require that a criminal contemnor be given notice that his conduct was criminal before he can be punished, but a verbal warning from the court suffices for this purpose. Commonwealth v. Kolansky, 800 A.2d 937, 942 n.5 (Pa. Super. 2002). Summary punishments for direct criminal contempt are permissible only in cases of “flagrant defiance” that threaten the court’s authority. Moody, 125 A.3d at 9. They cannot be used to punish minor misconduct. Id.

    To prove indirect criminal contempt, the court must establish that its “order was definite, clear, specific, and leaving no doubt in the person to whom it was addressed of the conduct prohibited; the contemnor had notice of the order; the act constituting the violation was volitional; and the contemnor acted with wrongful intent.” Commonwealth v. McMullen, 961 A.2d 842, 849 (Pa. 2008). A jury trial is not required if the prison term contemplated is less than six months. Id. at 847.

    The punishments available to courts using their criminal contempt powers cannot be limited by statute. McMullen, 961 A.2d at 849-50. Court rules, however, limit the punishments that magisterial and municipal courts can impose for criminal contempt. See Pa. R. Crim. P. 140.

    1. Fines

    The fines imposed by courts cannot be limited by statute. Commonwealth v. McMullen, 961 A.2d 842, 849-50 (Pa. 2008). But, the criminal rules provide that magisterial and municipal courts cannot impose a fine of greater than $100 for direct contempt, or for failing to obey a subpoena or compensate a victim. Pa. R. Crim. P. 140(A)(1), (B)(3).

    1. Jail

    The court has the inherent power to jail a person for contempt, and that power cannot be limited by statute. See Commonwealth v. McMullen, 961 A.2d 842, 849-50 (Pa. 2008) (striking down 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 4136(b), which unconstitutionally constrained courts’ inherent contempt powers by limiting indirect criminal sentence to 15 days). Court rules limit the punishments that magisterial and municipal courts can impose for criminal contempt. Pa. R. Crim. P. 140. Such courts cannot impose a sentence greater than ten days for failure to pay the fine after disobeying a subpoena, thirty days for direct contempt or failure to compensate a victim, or ninety days for failure to pay costs and fines according to an installment payment order. Id. at 140(A)(1), (B)(3).

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  • Rhode Island

    Criminal contempt punishes the contemnor for an act insulting or belittling the authority and dignity of the court. Durfee v. Ocean State Steel, Inc., 636 A.2d 698, 704 (R.I. 1994). Rule 17(g) of the R.I. Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure provides that "failure by any person without adequate excuse to obey a subpoena served upon him may be deemed in contempt of the court in which the action is pending." R.I. Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 17(g).

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  • South Carolina

    There are no cases in South Carolina where a reporter has been convicted of criminal contempt.

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  • Tennessee

    Tennessee law generally authorizes courts to punish criminal contempt. See Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 29-9-101 - 29-9-108. As punishment for criminal contempt, Tennessee courts are generally limited to limited to imposing a fine of $50 and imprisonment of up to 10 days. See Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-9-103.

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  • Texas

    The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure authorizes a discretionary punishment for refusal to obey a subpoena of up to $500 for a felony case and up to $100 for a misdemeanor case. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 24.05. Furthermore, if a subpoenaed witness does not appear, the state or the defendant may issue an attachment for that witness to appear, which will command a peace officer to take bring the witness before such court, magistrate or grand jury on a day named. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 24.11. A grand jury foreman may also issue a writ of attachment pursuant to Article 24.11 to force the appearance of a witness. A refusal to comply with a grand jury subpoena is punishable by a maximum fine of $500 and confinement until compliance. Tex. Code Crim. Proc. art. 20.15. Pre-statute, the book author Vanessa Leggett refused to testify before a grand jury and was cited for contempt. She argued that she had a First Amendment privilege under Branzburg that protected her against the grand jury subpoena she had been served with. The Fifth Circuit turned down her appeal, relying on its prior holding in United States v. Smith, 135 F.3d 963 (5th Cir. 1998); see In Re Grand Jury Subpoenas, 29 Media L. Rep. 2301 (5th Cir. 2002) (unpublished). As a result, Leggett spent 168 days in jail, and was only released when the grand jury term expired.

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  • Utah

    There is no statutory or case law addressing this issue.

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  • Vermont

    V.R.Cr.P. 17(g) provides that: “Failure by any person without adequate excuse to obey a subpoena served upon him may be deemed a contempt of the court from which the subpoena issued.” Contempt proceedings may be brought under 12 V.S.A. §§ 122-23. “Criminal contempt proceedings are governed by Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 42, which is ‘virtually identical to Federal Rule 42.’ . . . . Rule 42(b) provides for notice and hearing, trial by jury, and trial before a different judge if the charge involves ‘disrespect to or criticism of a judge.’” In re Duckman, 2006 VT 23, ¶ 24, 898 A.2d 734, 746 (2006) (quoting V.R.Cr.P. 42 – Reporter’s Notes). These proceedings are in addition to the statutory criminal penalty of 13 V.S.A. § 6603 which provides that “[a] person legally summoned to attend a court in this state to testify in a criminal case, who willfully or wrongfully refuses to attend and testify, shall be fined not less than $10.00 nor more than $100.00 or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.” 13 V.S.A. § 6603.

    Vermont also has an aiding and abetting statute which provides that “[a] person who knowingly and wrongfully counsels, aids or assists a person so summoned to testify, to absent himself or herself from attendance before such court, shall be fined not more than $50.00 nor less than $10.00.” 13 V.S.A. § 6604.

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  • Virginia

    Virginia Code § 18.2-456(5) states that a circuit court judge may summarily punish contempt when then there is disobedience or resistance to any lawful process, judgment, decree, or order of the court by, among others, a witness before the court. This section includes subpoenas directed to a witness. See Bellis v. Commonwealth, 241 Va. 257, 402 S.E.2d 211 (1991).

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  • Washington

    Washington's case law has not yet squarely addressed this issue.

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  • West Virginia

    There are no known instances of a court sentencing a reporter to a fixed sentence for criminal contempt in failing to comply with a court order to provide information. Such a remedy is highly unusual and unlikely. Nevertheless, conviction for criminal contempt is provided for in West Virginia Code § 61-5-26(d), that allows a court to sentence and/or fine an individual for disobedience to an order of the court. The putative contemnor is permitted a jury trial, but there is no statutory limitation on the amount of the potential fine or the period of incarceration.

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  • Wisconsin

    No Wisconsin appellate opinions address the issue in connection with a subpoena issued to a reporter. The penalties for criminal contempt are defined in Wis. Stat. § 785.04(2). If a district attorney, attorney general, or special prosecutor brings a charge of contempt, a court may impose a fine of not more than $5,000, imprisonment for not more than one year, or both for each separate charge. A judge, in order to protect the authority and dignity of the court, may on his or her own impose for each separate contempt of court a fine of not more than $500, imprisonment for not more than 30 days, or both.

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  • Wyoming

    There are no known cases where a reporter has been charged with criminal contempt in Wyoming.

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