Most everyone deals with tax returns in one form or another. There are many laws surrounding taxes in this country and, whether intentional or not, some people violate those laws. When that happens, you may be asked for tax returns through a process called a subpoena.
Case in point? The case involving President Trump’s tax returns.
Several agencies investigating his business pursuits want to obtain these records, but federal judges have to this point prevented that from happening. The President’s long battle with tax returns involves ignoring subpoenas ordering them to be released.
What would happen if an ordinary Texan like you tried to do the same, though? You might not like the answer…
What is a Texas Court Subpoena?
A subpoena is a court order that directs you to do something related to the court, such as make an appearance in court to testify.
Texas courts can also issue something called a “subpoena duces tecum.” This type of subpoena used for something desired for evidence, such as tax returns, that is relevant to the court proceedings.
What Happens When a Texan Ignores a Subpoena?
If you are issued a subpoena by a Texas court, do you have to comply?
The short answer is yes, you do.
A subpoena is not a request, it’s a legally enforceable order from the court that requires you to appear or produce documents. If you fail to comply, then you can be fined or even charged with contempt of court. Ignoring a subpoena in federal court is viewed as an act of criminal contempt and can land you in jail.
What is Contempt of Court in Texas?
Contempt of court is defined as acting in opposition to the court’s authority. There are two ways contempt is charged, either as criminal or civil.
Civil vs. Criminal Contempt of Court
Civil contempt is something the court uses as a way to encourage compliance with court orders. Basically, the court is instructing you to do something or you will be held in contempt. Criminal contempt is where a judge punishes someone for not complying with court orders.
Direct vs. Indirect Contempt of Court
There is also direct and indirect contempt of court. Direct is an act that happens in the presence of the court and is meant to disrespect the court in the process. An example may be refusing to answer questions from a judge while under oath or yelling in the courtroom.
Indirect contempt is something that happens outside of the court but is also meant to obstruct, degrade, or interrupt the proceedings of the court in the case. An example would be attempting to bribe a court official or withholding evidence.
What Penalties Do Texans Face for Contempt of Court?
Contempt of court is serious but remember that you don’t have to hide your tax returns in order to get a fair shot in court. All suspects of tax fraud are innocent until proven guilty. If you do face conviction, here’s what you can expect…
Punishments for contempt depend on the type of contempt perpetrated. For civil contempt, the punishment is taken on a case by case basis. There aren’t any restrictions on the amount of the fine or the duration of the jail sentence.
The guideline is that the period you are placed in jail cannot exceed 18 months if the judge even decides to give you a punishment that involves a jail sentence.
In general, fines up to $500 are assessed, and jail time up to six months.
Criminal contempt, however, is a different matter. The punishments for it are fixed and usually cannot be avoided. It is often charged as a misdemeanor but in certain situations, it can be charged as a felony. What you are charged with, as well as the penalties, depending on your individual case.
About the Author:
After getting his Juris Doctor from the University of Houston Law Center, Jeff Hampton began practicing criminal law in Texas in 2005. Before becoming a defense attorney, he worked as a prosecutor for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office – experience he uses to anticipate and cast doubt on the arguments that will be used against his clients. Over the course of his career, he has helped countless Texans protect their rights and get the best possible outcome in their criminal cases. He has been named one of the 3 Best DUI Lawyers in Fort Worth, recognized by Expertise, National Trial Lawyers, Avvo, and others, and he is Lead Counsel rated.