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Beam Contempt

Author: LegalEase Solutions


Does a court have to identify the order that was disobeyed in order to hold a party in contempt?


Extensive research in New Jersey and in the other states did not yield any case law dealing with a need to specifically identify the order for which a party is being sanctioned for disobeying. However, New Jersey courts have consistently held that a mere procedural deficiency of the court’s failure to identify the disobeyed court order, does not prevent the court from sanctioning a party.


N.J.S.A. 2A:10-1 states what constitutes contempt in general:

The power of any court of this state to punish for contempt shall not be construed to extend to any case except the * * * (c) Disobedience or resistance by any court officer, or by any party, juror, witness or any person whatsoever to any lawful writ, process, judgment, order, or command of the court.’ N.J.S.A. 2A:10-1

State v. Corey, 117 N.J. Super. 296, 299 (Co. 1971) opinion adopted sub nom. State v. Frankel, 119 N.J. Super. 579 (App. Div. 1972).

“Contempt of court, R. 1:10-1, may be generally defined as a disobedience to the court by acting in opposition to the authority, justice and dignity thereof.” Kerr SS Co, Inc v Westhoff, 204 NJ Super 300, 307-08; 498 A2d 793, 797-98 (1985) aff’d as mod 215 NJ Super 301; 521 A2d 1298 (1987). In New Jersey, “[a] mere procedural deficiency . . . does not permit a defendant to intentionally ignore a court order.” Id. (emphasis added) (citing State v. Masculin, 355 N.J.Super. 250, 258, 809 A.2d 882 (Ch.Div.2002)).

Additionally, in Gandhi, the Supreme Court of New Jersey has clarified that, “as long as a court order exists and a defendant has knowledge of it, the defendant may be prosecuted for a violation thereof, regardless of its deficiencies.” State v. Sylvester, 437 N.J. Super. 1, 6, 96 A.3d 256, 260 (App. Div. 2014) (citing State v. Gandhi, 201 N.J. 161, 190, 989 A.2d 256 (2010)).

Thus, in New Jersey, a person can be held liable for contempt of court order if he is subject to that court order, the court order was in existence when it was violated, and that person had knowledge regarding the existence of such court order. Further, a mere procedural deficiency does not permit a person to intentionally ignore a court order.

In the present case, juror Richard Beam (“Beam”) apparently had knowledge of the court order that specifically instructed the jurors: “Don’t discuss the matter amongst yourselves or with anyone else.” Beam was subject to the court order and he knowingly violated the said order when it was in effect.

Even though the court is unable to identify the order that was disobeyed with particularity, Beam will still likely not be able to evade contempt because a court may see the failure to cite the specific court order as a mere procedural deficiency which does not prevent a party from being held in contempt.


From the foregoing it appears that, Beam’s conduct of discussing the merits of the case  with the fellow jurors, when there was a specific court order not to do so, amounts to a contempt under N.J.S.A. 2A:10-1. Further, it appears that a mere procedural deficiency of the court’s failure to identify the disobeyed court order does not evade Beam’s contempt.