New York Penal Law Sections 215.50, 215.51: Criminal Contempt


In virtually every criminal case in New York where there is an alleged victim, the Arraignment Judge will issue an Order of Protection for that individual and will explain to the defendant what that order requires that they refrain from doing. Generally, though not always, this will be a "Full" Order of Protection: in addition to the obvious prohibition from assaulting, stalking, or threatening the complainant, this order prohibits the defendant from communicating with the complainant in any way, shape or form; no calls, texts, emails, letters, no attempting to get friends to speak on the defendant's behalf, etc. A copy of the order is given to the defendant at arraignment, so there can be no claim later that he was not aware of its contents.

When a person is subject to valid Order of Protection and disregards that order and contacts the individual under the protection of the order anyway, regardless of whether it's a phone call, email, text, or knock on the door of their house, that person can be found guilty of Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree (sometimes even if the complainant initiates the conversation, if the defendant does not discontinue it quickly enough). There is no requirement under the law that the defendant make any sort of threat or commit any act of violence against the person, any contact will constitute the basis of this offense.

There are no exceptions made to this unless they are explicitly written on the order itself. If the Order of Protection is issued in favor of a spouse, then the defendant will have to find another place to stay until the case is resolved and/or the order is amended to allow the person to return home. With New York City's focus on combating domestic violence, the NYPD are very quick to make arrests in these situations regardless of the circumstances. If there is an order, and the defendant is physically present or communicating in some way with the complainant, there will generally be another arrest.

Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree, NYPL § 215.50, is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail.

Criminal Contempt in the First Degree (NYPL § 215.51) is a more serious offense. A person is guilty of Criminal Contempt in the First Degree if they commit Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree AND: (i) intentionally put the person who has the order in fear of injury or death by threatening them with a weapon, or (ii) engages in a course of conduct which puts them in fear of physical injury, (iii) threatens them, or (iv) assaults them.

Additionally, if a person has been convicted of Criminal Contempt in the First or Second Degree within the previous five years, and commits Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree again, it will be "bumped-up" to the more serious Criminal Contempt in the First Degree charge.

Criminal Contempt in the First Degree is a class E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison if convicted.

The experienced New York domestic violence and criminal contempt attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lichtman have handled countless Criminal Contempt cases, arising from domestic disputes, family arguments, and many other situations. Call us today at (212) 581-1001 for a free case evaluation and to educate yourself about Orders of Protection and the best way to challenge domestic violence charges.