May 12, 2015
What is the criminal contempt of court maximum sentence? Contempt of court is not in the books so we have to look at the case law for the answer.
What is the maximum sentence possible for a contempt of court conviction?
So I am working on a ultimate sentencing guide, checklist and index. It is basically an index that serves as a guide and checklist for Illinois sentencing.
And contempt of court came up.
It is not in the criminal code. It is a judicial thing. I get it. However, I think it is safe to say that best practices is to have it all written down so everybody knows what they are looking at.
So, I do believe it is important to document, list and make official every human activity that the State may seek to punish with imprisonment. Add criminal contempt of court to that list.
That is why I feel if a maximum sentence can be ascertained from the case law that it should be.
I feel safe in calling it for contempt of court.
What is the maximum penalty possible for contempt of court in Illinois.
I’m saying it is 10 years.
Two Cases Lead To This Answer
People v. Geiger
Defendant had already testified against two co-defendants in a double murder but refused to testify against the third guy. Said he was pleading the Fifth, then later said he just forgot the details. So, unclear why he suddenly refused to testify. Court said 10 years for this “assault” on the judicial system was not grossly disproportionate to the nature of the contemptuous act when considered in light of defendant’s previous criminal history. Originally, the sentence was 20 years but the Illinois Supreme Court reversed that in an earlier proceeding. People v. Geiger
People v. Perez-Gonzalez
Defendant plead guilty to murder and agreed to testify against co defendants, after which the 15 year gun add-on would be vacated leaving defendant with a 20 year deal. Defendant refused to testify and was sentenced to an additional sentence of 10 years for contempt of court. Total time for defendant is now 45 years. In determining an appropriate sentence for criminal contempt, a court should consider the following factors: “(1) the extent of the willful and deliberate defiance of the court’s order, (2) the seriousness of the consequences of the contumacious behavior, (3) the necessity of effectively terminating the defendant’s defiance as required by the public interest, and (4) the importance of deterring such acts in the future.” This was a murder trial and the need for deterring others from willful contempt was great. People v. Perez-Gonzalez
I say these cases are instructive in determining the maximum penalty for contempt of court because that was the sentence in those cases and the cases involved pretty serious cases.
To be accurate, I’d probably have to say that the maximum is around 10 years.
The cases don’t actually come out and just say that they won’t allow anything over ten years.
Maximum is probably 10-ish. If a later case came by for like 12 years and there were different facts like somebody was acquitted or something then it is possible an appellate court would let it slide.
But I feel confident in saying 10 years is the maximum sentence possible for contempt of court.
Why does this question matter?
I think it is important to have well documented maximum sentence for contempt of court for the same reasons it should exist for every other crime.
We want to promote fair and even application of society's harshest penalties and prevent arbitrary enforcement.
Any just criminal system has to keep it fair. Arbitrary enforcement is the bane of fairness. Arbitrary enforcement runs counter to our goals.
When judges and prosecutors don’t have a known limit to work with, arbitrary results are the likely result.
I mean if we look at Geiger a little more closely we see that the trial judge initially went with 20 years. Yes, that was a double murder it was a serious case. But the judge seemed to fall back on his notion of an “assault” on the judicial system.
What the hell is that? Who gets to define the severity of the “assault”.
Lets have limits and a known logical way to apply discretion.