NRS 199.340 is the Nevada law allowing judges to find you in criminal contempt for acting loud or disorderly during court proceedings. Criminal contempt is a misdemeanor in Nevada. The maximum criminal penalty includes six months in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.
NRS 199.340 states:
Every person who shall commit a contempt of court of any one of the following kinds shall be guilty of a misdemeanor:
1. Disorderly, contemptuous or insolent behavior committed during the sitting of the court, in its immediate view and presence, and directly tending to interrupt its proceedings or to impair the respect due to its authority;
2. Behavior of like character in the presence of a referee, while actually engaged in a trial or hearing pursuant to an order of court, or in the presence of a jury while actually sitting in the trial of a cause or upon an inquest or other proceeding authorized by law;
3. Breach of the peace, noise or other disturbance directly tending to interrupt the proceedings of a court, jury or referee;
4. Willful disobedience to the lawful process or mandate of a court;
5. Resistance, willfully offered, to its lawful process or mandate;
6. Contumacious and unlawful refusal to be sworn as a witness or, after being sworn, to answer any legal and proper interrogatory;
7. Publication of a false or grossly inaccurate report of its proceedings; or
8. Assuming to be an attorney or officer of a court or acting as such without authority.
In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:
- 1. What is criminal contempt under NRS 199.340?
- 2. How is civil contempt different?
- 3. Can I go to jail for criminal contempt?
- 4. How do I fight criminal contempt charges?
- 5. How soon can the record get sealed?
1. What is criminal contempt under NRS 199.340?
Nevada judges can hold you in criminal contempt for being willfully disruptive or uncooperative during court proceedings. Examples include:
- A defendant speaking out of turn while court is in session;
- A person in the audience yelling at the judge after making a ruling; or
- A witness refusing to answer questions after being sworn in.
Anyone can be found in contempt under Nevada law, not just parties to the case. Even loud protestors outside the courtroom can be found in contempt. And it does not matter whether the proceeding being disrupted is a criminal case or a civil case.
In short, the purpose of a criminal contempt conviction is to punish the disruptive person (“the contemnor”) for offending the court. And judges wield a lot of discretion when finding someone in criminal contempt. Some judges have a lot of patience while others are very stern. Behavior that is found contemptible in one court may be permissible in another.1
2. How is civil contempt different?
Criminal contempt is meant to punish people who impede judicial proceedings. In contrast, civil contempt is meant to compel people to follow court orders for someone else’s benefit.
An example of civil contempt is a judge fining a defendant for violating a restraining order against a witness. The purpose of the fine is to deter the defendant from contacting the witness again.
Another difference between criminal and civil contempt is the length that the contempt lasts. Criminal contempt is its own case which is handled separately from any underlying case. In contrast, civil contempt ceases when the legal case from which the contempt arose is resolved.2
3. Can I go to jail for criminal contempt?
As a misdemeanor in Nevada, criminal contempt is punishable by:
- 6 months in jail, and/or
- $1,000 in fines.3
Meanwhile, the standard penalty for civil contempt is:
- up to $500 in fines and/or
- up to 25 days in jail.4
But civil contempt punishments may be harsher depending on the circumstances. For instance, refusing to testify before a grand jury in Nevada carries up to six months in jail or the length of time until the grand jury is discharged (whichever is less). And when the contempt stems from defying a court order to perform an act, the judge may jail you until you perform it.5
4. How do I fight criminal contempt charges?
Criminal contempt of court is just like any criminal charge in that the prosecution has the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The following are three common defenses:
- Lack of intent. Willfulness is an essential element in the Nevada crime of criminal contempt. As long as you violated court procedures by accident or at no fault of your own, contempt charges should not stand.
- Lack of contempt. Perhaps the judge wrongly believes that your behavior qualifies as contempt. Or maybe your actions were a permissible exercise of your constitutional rights. The contempt charge should be dismissed if the prosecutor cannot show that your behavior rose to the level of criminal contempt.6
- False allegations. Sometimes judges mistakenly hold the wrong person in contempt. Or perhaps someone wrongly accused you of contemptuous behavior out of revenge or anger. If the defense attorney raises a reasonable doubt about you committing contempt, then you should not be held criminally liable.
Note that a contempt conviction can be appealed in the Nevada criminal justice system. Learn more about criminal appeals laws.
5. How soon can the record get sealed?
As a misdemeanor, criminal contempt convictions are sealable one year after the case ends. But if the contempt charge gets dismissed, then the defendant can pursue a record seal right away.7
For legal advice contact our Las Vegas, NV criminal law firm. Our criminal defense lawyers fight all types of charges from DUI to domestic violence. And we appear in courts throughout Clark County (including Henderson) and the state of Nevada.
- Nevada Revised Statute 199.340 – Criminal contempt. See Cunningham v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, (Nevada Supreme Court, 1986) 102 Nev. 551, 729 P.2d 1328. See also NRS 125C.040 re. contempt in family law child custody cases.
- NRS 22.100.
- NRS 199.340.
- NRS 22.100.
- NRS 22.110.
- See, for example, Office of Clark County Dist. Attorney v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, (1985) 101 Nev. 843, 710 P.2d 1384. See, for example, Bowman v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, (1986) 102 Nev. 474, 728 P.2d 433.
- NRS 179.245; NRS 179.255.