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In Re Debs

Contempt Of Court

Conduct that defies or undermines the authority and justice of a court is considered contempt of court and is punishable by jail, fines, and other forms of retribution. A court can charge plaintiffs, defendants, lawyers, court personnel, jurors, witnesses, and observers with contempt of court for inappropriate behavior. In addition, a court generally has considerable latitude in making contempt charges. Contempt of court charges also can be categorized as civil or criminal and direct or indirect. Contempt of court charges intend to discourage behavior that undermines the court's authority and prevents the court from administering justice.

However, because courts have ample latitude for determining what amounts to contempt of court and how to punish it, some legal scholars argue that the courts have too much power and leeway for determining and punishing contempt of court. Because judges who make criminal contempt charges sometimes hear these cases, they may issue punishments that are too severe, especially when they are the offended party. Critics point to cases where judges imposed excessive fines and jail sentences relative to the offenses committed. In some cases people who have refused to give courts requested evidence have been incarcerated for several years as a result.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917In Re Debs - Significance, The "debs Rebellion", Debs Tried For Conspiracy, Debs' Political Career Continued