Q: The mother is on government medical/ food stamp assistance. The child support case is in PA. The mother of child did not show up to the first initial hearing. The hearing has been rescheduled. Will a warrant be issued for me if I do not attend the hearing? (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: I do not believe the Family Division issues warrants for parties that do not show for hearings to establish child support. If it was a contempt hearing for failure to pay child support, they could hold a hearing without you, find you in contempt in absentia, then issue a warrant. If you fail to appear at a support establishment hearing, they will conduct a hearing without you and issue an order, which will likely require you to pay support.
Q: My sons father hasn’t paid since July of 2017. He owes over $4,000.00. There was an enforcement hearing on Monday, which I could not attend. Today, I received paper saying on March 21st there is a contempt hearing. So, I was just curious as to what goes on at the enforcement hearing and what goes on at the contempt. (Pittsburgh, PA)
A: When you hear the word, “contempt”, it is generally not good. It means that the defendant has failed to comply with an order of court. In Family Law, if a judge orders a defendant to pay X amount by X date, and the defendant does not, a contempt hearing is held. At the hearing if the judge determines that the defendant is in contempt, the law permits the judge to sentence the defendant to 6 months in jail. The ways around it are to pay the full amount by the time of the hearing or make a substantial payment before the hearing or bring a substantial amount of money to the hearing. It is generally all about money. If no payment is made and the defendant has no valid excuse for not paying, he may be spending spring and summer in the Allegheny Iron Hilton.
Q: If a 17-year-old minor involved in a case as a witness, refuses to attend and testify in court, what charges would he/she be facing? Could they receive a fine, or even jail time? (Peters Township, PA)
A: The only circumstance in which a person can be legally obligated to appear in court and testify is if they were served with a Subpoena. As this person is a minor, his parents or guardians must be served. If the parent or guardian is served with the subpoena and do not want to bring their son to court, they should seek the advice of a lawyer as to whether they have legal grounds to not comply, such as the minor’s 5th Amendment rights or a real threat of retaliation or witness intimidation. If the parent or guardian has no such valid reason, then they can be held in contempt of court by the judge and the judge can issue an order or warrant and have them brought to court by sheriff or police.
Q: As a Commonwealth witness, can I be incarcerated indefinitely because I refuse to testify in a criminal case in Pennsylvania? The Assistant District Attorney wants to revoke bail for the other witness and have him remain in jail because he refuses to testify in a criminal case.
A: The other witness has some issues and I hope that he or she has a lawyer. It sounds like he or she is on bond for a crime and it may be a bond conditions that he or she “cooperate” with the Commonwealth. If that is the case, he or she is in a tough situation if they now wish not to testify. As for you, you are not saying here that you are on bond or you are part of the case as a co-defendant, which makes a difference. First, you need to be served with a subpoena. You should review this with your attorney to see if you may incriminate yourself by testifying. If you will incriminate yourself by testifying, the attorney may advise you invoke your 5th Amendment rights and not to testify. If you will not incriminate yourself and have no 5th Amendment protection, and you are merely a factual witness, you have no right to not testify. However, if you wish, you can tell the Assistant District Attorney that you will not testify. The ADA can ask the judge to hold you in contempt of court for not testifying which can result in you being jailed and a contempt hearing being set. It doesn’t mean it will happen. If you want to play chicken with the ADA and the Court, you can refuse to testify until the judge tells you he will hold you in contempt and incarcerate you. At THAT point, you have a big decision to make. I don’t recommend playing chicken if you do not have a 5th Amendment right to protect. Again, I would consult with a lawyer to determine your rights.