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Can i be found in contempt of court, if I refuse to answer a question while on the witness stand in a criminal trial.

Stockton, CA |
Attorney answers 3


If you are called as a witness, you will be required to answer the questions to which the court does not sustain an objection. If you refuse, the court may direct you to answer or to be held in contempt. That is the moment -- not before -- when you are at risk for contempt findings.

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If the judge directs you to answer a question and you refuse, you can be held in contempt and put in jail until you agree to answer. If the answer would tend to incriminate you, however, you might have a fifth amendment privilege to refuse to answer. You should consult with a criminal defense attorney.

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General rule is YES, you can be held in contempt.

Exception 1. (5th AMENDMENT) If the answers will incriminate you for some reason, like you may be admitting to a crime, then you may consider invoking the 5th amendment. If this is a real possibility you should inform the person who is calling you to the stand that you want to the judge to appoint an attorney for you. IF this is the case to circumvent this from happening and having you uphold your invocation of the 5th amendment, then the DA could offer what is called immunity. Immunity can be transactional or use. Transactional immunity is best. (For a later discussion)

Exception 2 (Marcy's Law) ONLY in California as far as I know, a victim of domestic violence cannot be PUT IN JAIL for contempt of court but CAN BE FINED for contempt of court. This makes a big difference because a few years ago the DA's could ask the judge to put you in jail as a victim of domestic violence - but not anymore.

I have practiced in the San Joaquin County courthouse for several years. I'd suggest you contact an attorney if either of the two exceptions apply to you.

The above information does not establish an attorney client relationship nor is it meant to provide legal advice.