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In law, willful disobedience to or open disrespect of a court, judge, or legislative body. An act of disobedience to a court order may be treated as either criminal or civil contempt; sanctions for the latter end upon compliance with the order. An act or language that consists solely of an affront to a court or interferes with the conduct of its business constitutes criminal contempt; such contempt carries sanctions designed to punish as well as to coerce compliance. In the U.S., a congressional committee can compel the attendance of witnesses. Any witness failing to appear or otherwise obstructing the committee in the course of exercising its powers may be in contempt. Witnesses are, however, protected by the 5th Amendment against forced self-incrimination. See alsoperjury.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on contempt, visit Britannica.com.