TITLE 18 - CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
PART I - CRIMES
CHAPTER 21 - CONTEMPTS
Sec. 402. Contempts constituting crimes
Any person, corporation or association willfully disobeying any
lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command of any
district court of the United States or any court of the District of
Columbia, by doing any act or thing therein, or thereby forbidden,
if the act or thing so done be of such character as to constitute
also a criminal offense under any statute of the United States or
under the laws of any State in which the act was committed, shall
be prosecuted for such contempt as provided in section 3691 of this
title and shall be punished by a fine under this title or
imprisonment, or both.
Such fine shall be paid to the United States or to the
complainant or other party injured by the act constituting the
contempt, or may, where more than one is so damaged, be divided or
apportioned among them as the court may direct, but in no case
shall the fine to be paid to the United States exceed, in case the
accused is a natural person, the sum of $1,000, nor shall such
imprisonment exceed the term of six months.
This section shall not be construed to relate to contempts
committed in the presence of the court, or so near thereto as to
obstruct the administration of justice, nor to contempts committed
in disobedience of any lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree,
or command entered in any suit or action brought or prosecuted in
the name of, or on behalf of, the United States, but the same, and
all other cases of contempt not specifically embraced in this
section may be punished in conformity to the prevailing usages at
For purposes of this section, the term "State" includes a State
of the United States, the District of Columbia, and any
commonwealth, territory, or possession of the United States.
(June 25, 1948, ch. 645, 62 Stat. 701; May 24, 1949, ch. 139, Sec.
8(c), 63 Stat. 90; Pub. L. 101-647, title XII, Sec. 1205(c), Nov.
29, 1990, 104 Stat. 4830; Pub. L. 103-322, title XXXIII, Secs.
330011(f), 330016(2)(E), Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2145, 2148.)
HISTORICAL AND REVISION NOTES
Based on sections 386, 387, 389, and 390a of title 28, U.S.C.,
1940 ed., Judicial Code and Judiciary (Oct. 15, 1914, ch. 323,
Secs. 1, 21, 22, 24, 38 Stat. 730, 738, 739).
Section 21 of the Clayton Act, section 386 of title 28, U.S.C.,
1940 ed., Judicial Code and Judiciary, is here consolidated with
parts of sections 1, 22, and 24 of the same act. Section 1 of said
act, section 390a of title 28 U.S.C., 1940 ed., Judicial Code and
Judiciary, defined person or persons. Section 22 of said act,
section 387 of title 28, U.S.C., 1940 ed., Judicial Code and
Judiciary, regulated the procedure and provided for the punishment
of contempts. Section 24 of said act, section 389 of title 28,
U.S.C., 1940 ed., Judicial Code and Judiciary, limited the
application of these sections to certain kinds of contempt.
In transferring these sections to this title and in consolidating
them numerous changes of phraseology were necessary which do not,
however, change their meaning or substance. Words "corporation or
association" were inserted after "any person" in substitution for
the definition provisions of section 390a of title 28, U.S.C., 1940
ed., Judicial Code and Judiciary, which read as follows: "The word
'person' or 'persons' wherever used in sections 381-383, 386-390a
of this title, sections 12, 13, 14-19, 20, 21, 22-27 and 44 of
title 15, and section 412 of title 18 shall be deemed to include
corporations and associations existing under or authorized by the
laws of either the United States, the laws of any of the
Territories, the laws of any State, or the laws of any foreign
The words "any person, corporation, or association," unqualified
except by the context of the section mean all that the more lengthy
definition included. Only those persons, corporations, and
associations who were parties to the order or had actual notice of
it may be punished for contempt. (See McCauly v. First Trust &
Savings Bank, C.C.A. Ill. 1921, 276 F. 117. See, also National
Labor Relations Board v. Blackstone Mfg. Co., C.C.A. 1941, 123 F.
2d 633.) The fact that the contemnor was incorporated or organized
under a foreign law or under the laws of a particular State or
Territory would hardly be relevant to the issue of criminal
As noted above these sections were part of the Clayton Act,
entitled "An act to supplement existing laws against unlawful
restraints and monopolies, and for other purposes." Whatever doubt
might have existed as to whether the contempt provisions were
variously limited to antitrust cases seems to be dispelled by the
case of Sandefur v. Canoe Creek Coal Co. (C.C.A. Ky. 1923, 293 F.
379, certified question answered 45 S. Ct. 18, 266 U.S. 42, 69 L.
Ed. 162, 35 A.L.R. 451), where the court says: "The act, considered
as a whole, covers several more or less distinct subjects. * * *
The first eight sections pertain directly to the subject of trust
and monopolies; section 9 concerns interstate commerce; section 10,
combinations among common carriers; section 11, proceedings to
enforce certain provisions of the act; sections 12-16, antitrust
procedure and remedies; sections 17-19, regulations of injunction
and restraining orders in all cases; section 20 limits the power of
an equity court to issue any injunction in a certain class of
cases, viz., between employer and the employee; and sections 21-24
pertain to procedure in any district court, punishing contemptuous
disregard of any order of such court, providing the act
constituting contempt is also a criminal offense. Observing this
relation of the various parts of the act to each other, we think
'within the purview of this act' must refer to that portion of the
act which most broadly covers the subject-matter to which section
22 is devoted, and this portion is section 21, which reaches all
cases where the act of contempt is also a criminal offense. We know
of nothing in the legislative history of the act, or within the
common knowledge as to the then existing situation, which justifies
us in thinking that 'within the purview of this act,' in section
22, meant to limit its effect to the employer-employee provisions
of section 20, or even to the antitrust scope of some of the
earlier sections." (See also Michaelson v. United States, 1924, 45
S. Ct. 18, 166 U.S. 42, 69 L. Ed. 162, 35 A.L.R. 451, and H. Rept.
No. 613, 62d Cong., 2d sess., to accompany H.R. 15657.)
This amendment [see section 8] corrects the catchline of section
402 of title 18, U.S.C., to better represent the section content.
1994 - Pub. L. 103-322, Sec. 330016(2)(E), substituted "punished
by a fine under this title" for "punished by fine" in first par.
Pub. L. 103-322, Sec. 330011(f), amended directory language of
Pub. L. 101-647, Sec. 1205(c). See 1990 Amendment note below.
1990 - Pub. L. 101-647, Sec. 1205(c), as amended by Pub. L. 103-
322, Sec. 330011(f), added par. defining "State".
1949 - Act May 24, 1949, substituted "Contempts constituting
crimes" for "Criminal contempts" in section catchline.
EFFECTIVE DATE OF 1994 AMENDMENT
Section 330011(f) of Pub. L. 103-322 provided that the amendment
made by that section is effective as of the date on which section
1205(c) of Pub. L. 101-647, which amended this section, took
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