What happens if I violate a court order?


If a California court orders you to do something, you need to follow the court’s instructions no matter what — even if you feel it is unfair. Violating a court order is also known as contempt of court, and the penalties for this offense can be severe.

The Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling can defend you if you are charged with contempt of court or a court order violation. Let us review your case in a free consultation. Our attorneys provide high-level legal representation to clients in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. Call or contact us today to get started.

What is a Court Order?

A court order is a set of written or oral instructions issued by a judge at the end of a trial, hearing, or legal proceeding. Most court orders list what you can or cannot do once the legal matter has concluded.

Court orders can be issued in various contexts. One common court order is a temporary restraining order (TRO) in domestic violence cases. A judge’s order to stay away from the alleged victim in a criminal case or failing to follow a court order in a DUI case or firearm case are additional examples of court-issued orders.

Common Examples of Court Order Violations

California Penal Code 166 outlines some situations where a person might be found in contempt of court:

  • Violating a protective order or stay-away order in cases involving domestic violence, elder abuse, and stalking
  • Coming to court late
  • Disrupting court proceedings
  • Refusing to testify as a witness
  • Refusing to answer questions
  • Failing to appear in court

Failing to follow a court’s order in a DUI case, firearm case, sex offense case, or cyber crime case can also lead to stiff penalties, including but not limited to probation violations, fines, jail time, and in certain instances, the filing of additional criminal charges.

If you have been charged with violating a court order, a criminal defense lawyer from the Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling can determine your next steps after reviewing your case.

Penalties for Violating a Court Order

California law states that contempt of court is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail or a fine of up to $1,000 (or both). Violating a court order also applies to “crimes against the person,” such as domestic violence cases. Penal Code 273.6 makes it illegal to violate a court-issued protective order. The penalties and court fines get more severe if the violations result in a physical injury to the victim or if there were prior offenses. Paying up to $1,000 to a domestic violence shelter and/or restitution to the victim is possible instead of court fines in some cases.

While most court order violations are misdemeanors, cases involving domestic violence, elder abuse, and unlawful possession of a firearm are wobbler offenses, meaning they can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the circumstances. Felony convictions for contempt could result in substantial fines and up to three years in prison.

Proving a Court Order Violation

To be convicted of violating a court order, the prosecution must show that:

  • A judge issued a court order.
  • You knew about the order.
  • You had the ability to follow the court order.
  • You purposely and willfully disobeyed the terms of the order.

Knowing about the court order means more than just hearing that it was issued. To secure a conviction, the prosecutor must show you had a chance to read the court order before the violation occurred.

Possible Defenses

Proving contempt of court can be a tough standard for prosecutors to reach. If you hire a criminal defense lawyer to represent you, they may argue that:

  • The court order was unlawful.
  • You did not willingly violate the court order.
  • You did not know about the court order.
  • You did not have an opportunity to see or read the court order.
  • You have been falsely accused.
  • Your constitutional rights have been violated.

Why You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer to Handle Your Case

Being accused of any crime has repercussions, even if you don’t go to jail. Your reputation could be tarnished, affecting your relationships, employment prospects, and future opportunities. Hiring a hard-hitting defense lawyer can help ensure you receive fair treatment and the best possible outcome.

Court order violations can stem from innocent errors in judgment or a lack of understanding of the judicial system. Let’s say your significant other obtained a restraining order against you after an argument went too far. A few days later, they call and want to discuss getting back together. You meet with them. Your actions violate the court order and could lead to your arrest because you willfully attended the meeting. Even though you did not initiate contact, you could still face prosecution. In this situation, a strong criminal defense lawyer can develop a defense strategy that gives you the best possible chance of getting the charges reduced or dropped.

When in doubt, the safest way to prevent a court order violation is to consult with an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney if you do not understand the terms of the order or if you have questions about the lawfulness or validity of the order.

Hire an Experienced Lawyer to Defend You Today

Being accused of violating a court order is a serious offense, but it does not automatically mean you are guilty. The Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Justin E. Sterling are dedicated to advocating for our clients’ rights and ensuring their fair treatment within the criminal justice system.

Our firm has more than two decades of criminal trial experience and represents clients in cases ranging from high-profile murder trials to misdemeanor offenses. No matter the crime, you can count on our attorneys to deliver top-quality legal services with your best interests in mind.

We can review your case and get started on your defense immediately, and there’s no charge for your first consultation. Contact us now.