If a witness in a criminal case refuses to testify, that individual could be found in contempt of court under California Penal Code 166 PC. The penalties for being found in contempt of court range from jail time, a fine or both. However, a victim in a domestic violence or sexual assault case cannot be jailed for refusing to testify. They can only be held in contempt of court and fined under the CCP1219.
2 Common Situations Where a Witness Can Be Found In Contempt
The two most common situations where a witness can be found in contempt of court in California are:
- Failing to appear in court after receiving a subpoena
- Refusing to testify in court
Criminal courts generally use their contempt power to ensure witnesses and other parties adhere to its orders and their courts are run in an orderly fashion. Otherwise, no one would take testifying seriously.
Penalties for Refusing to Testify Under California Law
When a witness refuses to testify in court, it is considered a direct contempt because it is committed in the presence of the judge. In such cases, the judge can immediately punish the individual refusing to testify under CCP1218. The judge can order the following penalties if it finds the witness in direct contempt:
- 5 days in jail
- A $1,000 fine
Moreover, the court can order a witness who refuses to testify to be jailed until the court proceeding or trial is complete. Again, this does not apply to victims of domestic violence or sexual assault who refuse to testify.
Defenses to Refusing to Testify
There are some defenses to refusing to testify, but your Central Valley criminal defense lawyer should present them to the court at the time of refusal. These defenses include:
- The right against self-incrimination
- Privilege (marital, clergy, news reporter)
- Questions are not material
Call an Experienced Central Valley Criminal Defense Attorney
If you or someone that you care about has been arrested or charged with a crime that you did not commit, it is important that you immediately hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to help protect your legal rights and ensure that you have the best defense possible to avoid a criminal conviction.