Failure to obey an order of the court gives rise to an action for contempt.9 Such violation must not be a mere technical one, but must constitute a failure to obey the court in a meaningful way.10

The conduct constituting criminal contempt is defined by the Delaware Criminal Code and includes (i) disorderly, contemptuous or insolent behavior committed during the sitting of the court, in its immediate view and presence and directly tending to interrupt the proceedings or to impair the respect due its authority;11 (ii) breach of the peace, noise or other disturbance directly tending to interrupt a court proceeding;12 (iii) intentional disobedience or resistance to the process, injunction or other mandate of the court;13 (iv) contumacious refusal to be sworn as a witness in any court proceeding or, after being sworn, to answer any proper question;14 (v) knowingly publishing a false or grossly inaccurate report of a court’s proceedings;15 (vi) intentional refusal to serve as a juror;16 (vii) intentional and unexcused failure by a juror to attend a trial at which the juror was chosen to serve;17 and (viii) intentional failure to appear personally on the required date, after release from custody, with or without bail, by court order or by other lawful authority, upon condition that the person released subsequently appear personally in connection with a  criminal action or proceeding.18

False testimony may also constitute criminal contempt (as well as perjury) if the court concludes with a high degree of assurance that (i) false testimony has been given; (ii) the testimony goes to a material issue; and (iii) the false testimony is such as to impair the dignity and respect due to the court or has an obstructive effect on the orders or process of the court.19

9. See 11 Del. C. §§ 1271(2), 271. See also Ch. Ct. R. 70(b). A judgment on a jury’s damage award does not constitute an “order” subject to contempt for failure to pay. Biggs v. Strauss, C.A. No. 81C-OC-46, Poppiti, J. (Del. Super. May 17, 1988).  The Court of Chancery, on the other hand, may imprison a party to enforce obedience to its judgments. 10 Del. C. § 370.  In appropriate circumstances, this power might be used as a sanction in a contempt action.  See Mother African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church v. Conference of African Union First Colored Methodist Protestant Church, C.A. Nos. 12055 & 1674, slip op. at 29, Jacobs, V.C. (Del. Ch. 1995) (declining to use that power under the circumstances).

10. Dickerson v. Castle, C.A. No. 10256, slip op. at 8, Chandler, V.C. (Del. Ch. Mar. 2, 1993).

11. 11 Del. C. § 1271(1).

12. 11 Del. C. § 1271(2); McDavis v. Neal, 599 A.2d 756, 758 (Del. Super. 1991).

13. 11 Del. C. § 1271(3).

14. 11 Del. C. § 1271(4); Smith v. State, 560 A.2d 1004, 1008 (Del. 1989); Pitts v. State, 421 A.2d 901, 904 (Del. 1980).

15. 11 Del. C. § 1271(5).

16. 11 Del. C. § 127 1(6). See also 10 Del. C. § 4516.

17. 11 Del. C. § 1271(7).

18. 11 Del. C. § 1271(8).

19. State ex rel. Oberly v. Atlas Sanitation Co., C.A. No. 9864, slip op. at 9-10, Allen C. (Del. Ch. Oct. 31, 1991)

© 2010  David L. Finger