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Criminal Contempt: New York Penal Law Article 215

If strict liability crimes truly existed in the New York Penal Law and depending how you define such a term many lawyers will explain how they do, Criminal Contempt in the First and Second Degrees, as well as Aggravated Criminal Contempt, would exemplify their codification. At its base level, if a judge in New York issues an Order of Protection, Restraining Order or Stay Away Order, should you violate its terms, then all bets are off. Simply, you may not be guilty of any wrongdoing after your counsel challenges the allegations and evidence, but do not be surprised when the NYPD or other police agency arrests you, takes you into custody and charges you with a Domestic Violence crime.

Definitions and Elements

Although there are numerous subsections, unlike pure “strict liability” claims in the civil realm, in order to violate Penal Law 215.50, Second Degree Criminal Contempt. Penal Law 215.51, First Degree Criminal Contempt, or Penal Law 215.52, Aggravated Criminal Contempt, you must have knowledge of the Order of Protection’s existence whether it was issued from a NYC Criminal, Family, Justice, Supreme or County Court. To be clear, even if service may not have been proper, as long as the prosecution can prove you violated the terms of the Restraining Order and your knowledge of its existence, this crime may be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Penalties and Punishment

If you are convicted of any degree of this crime, your outlook is bleak in terms of sentencing. Second Degree is an “A” misdemeanor while a First Degree conviction is an “E” felony. These crimes are punishable with sentences up to one year in jail and four years in state prison respectively. Aggravated Criminal Contempt trumps both crimes and is a “D” felony punishable by as many as seven years in “upstate.”

Example and Hypothetical Scenario

These crimes are commonly seen in the domestic context. Whether the original Order of Protection or Restraining Order was issued by a judge in Family Court, Criminal Court or some other court is of little significance. What should be of great concern to anyone charged with PL 215.50, PL 215.51 or PL 215.52, however, is that even if your intent was to make up with the person whom the Order of Protection prevents your contact with or the two of you have reconciled, it may be of no legal relevance. This is where the “strict liability” standard kicks in and you, as an alleged violator, will be arrested.

Related Offenses and Collateral Issues

The underlining conduct of a Contempt charge can range from the most benign and otherwise innocent phone call or text conversation to the most severe and alarming physical attack. The nature of the underlying conduct will often be the determining factor in the degree of the Contempt charge that is brought. A verbal threat, threatening conduct, or something like Stalking will raise a misdemeanor charge up to a felony offense in the First Degree in many situations. A more serious Assault where there is physical injury to the protected party will elevate the charge even further to Aggravated Criminal Contempt.

Your Case, Your Defense, Your Future

While every case involving New York Orders of Protection is unique, arrests for each of the degrees of this crime carries a much greater stigma. Anything that “smells” from ignoring a court order or perpetrating an act of domestic violence can cause havoc to your career and reputation. Whether you are a professional in the financial, legal, medical or any other sector, do not think for a moment that you are immune from this “scarlet letter.” In part, anyone with minimal knowledge of New York criminal law will recognize that in order to be arrested for Criminal Contempt there must have been an underlying or original Restraining Order in place. After all, you can’t be guilty for Contempt if there was nothing in place for you to violate. Further, depending on your conduct you may also face other crimes such as Assault or Aggravated Harassment. Simply, assumptions will be made, and you must be prepared to answer questions (or not) should they be asked by friends, family or employers.

Whatever the circumstances, do not take an arrest for these crimes lightly. Depending on numerous factors, Assistant District Attorneys can and do proceed with prosecutions even without the consent or involvement of victims. If you do not protect yourself and retain experienced criminal counsel, but instead chose to ignore the gravity of the allegation, you will bear the dire consequences to your career, future and potential liberty. When you are ready to take the first and strongest step towards mitigation or exoneration, contact the criminal lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors at Saland Law so knowledge, experience and advocacy can be your strongest defense.

Call the New York Criminal Contempt lawyers and former Assistant District Attorneys at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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