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Criminal Contempt

The Supreme Court of Ohio, Office of Judicial Services, has provide judges throughout the state a collection of court fines and costs reference guide which advises that judges may not hold an individual in contempt of court who has refused or failed to pay a fine or court costs or has failed to perform community service in lieu of either fines or court costs.

"'Contempt of court' is defined as the disobedience or disregard of a court order or command of judicial authority." In re Parker, 105 Ohio App.3d 31, 34 (1995).

The objective of contempt law is to protect the effective administration of justice, secure the propriety and dignity of the court, and maintain the superiority of the law. Cramer v. Petrie (1994), 70 Ohio St.3d 131, 133, 637 N.E.2d 882, 884.

Contempt can be characterized as criminal or civil, depending on the "character and purpose" of the punishment. Brown v. Executive 200, Inc., 64 Ohio St.2d 250, 416 N.E.2d 610 (1980).

The purpose of a criminal contempt citation is to punish, and the sanctions are designed to vindicate the authority of the court and punish past acts of disobedience. Denovchek v. Trumbull Cty. Bd. Of Commrs., 36 Ohio St.3d 14, 16, 520 N.E.2d 1362, 1364 (1988).

Within in the context of criminal contempt, contemptuous conduct can be further classified as either of the following:

1. Direct - misbehavior in the presence or so near the court or judge to obstruct the administration of justice

2. Indirect ­- conduct outside the presence of the court that demonstrates a lack of respect for the court or its lawful orders.

State v. Moody, 116 Ohio App.3d 176, 180, 687 N.E.2d 320 (12th Dist. 1996).

R.C. § 2705.01 entitled "Summary punishment for contempt" authorizes direct contempt proceedings and provides,

"A court, or judge at chambers, may summarily punish a person guilty of misbehavior in the presence of or so near the court or judge as to obstruct the administration of justice."

R.C. § 2705.02 entitled "Acts in contempt of court", regarding indirect contempt, provides,

"A person guilty of any of the following acts may be punished as for a contempt:

A. Disobedience of, or resistance to, a lawful writ, process, order, rule, judgment, or command of a court or officer;

B. Misbehavior of an officer of the court in the performance of official duties, or in official transactions;

C. A failure to obey a subpoena duly served, or a refusal to be sworn or to answer as a witness, when lawfully required;

D. The rescue, or attempted rescue, of a person or of property in the custody of an officer by virtue of an order or process of court held by the officer;

E. A failure upon the part of a person recognized to appear as a witness in a court to appear in compliance with the terms of the person's recognizance;

F. A failure to comply with an order issued pursuant to section 3109.19 or 3111.81 of the Revised Code;

G. A failure to obey a subpoena issued by the department of job and family services or a child support enforcement agency pursuant to section 5101.37 of the Revised Code

H. A willful failure to submit to genetic testing, or a willful failure to submit a child to genetic testing, as required by an order for genetic testing issued under section 3111.41 of the Revised Code.

R.C. § 2705.03 entitled "Hearing" provides the indirect contempt procedure, and provides in pertinent part,

"...a charge in writing shall be filed with the clerk of the court, an entry thereof made upon the journal, and an opportunity given to the accused to be heard, by himself or counsel. This section does not prevent the court from issuing process to bring the accused into court, or from holding him in custody, pending such proceedings."

In criminal contempt proceedings the constitutional safeguards must be observed as in any other criminal proceedings. Limings v. Damos, 2012 Ohio 4783, 133 Ohio St.3d 509 (2012). The trial court must advise a defendant of his constitutional rights, such as right to counsel, right to subpoena witnesses, right to cross-examine a witness, and right for the guilt to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Cleveland v. Bank of New York Mellon, 2013 Ohio 3157 (8th Dist. 2013).

R.C. 2705.05 entitled "Hearings for contempt proceedings" provides in pertinent part,

"(A) In all contempt proceedings, the court shall conduct a hearing. At the hearing, the court shall investigate the charge and hear any answer or testimony that the accused makes or offers and shall determine whether the accused is guilty of the contempt charge. If the accused is found guilty, the court may impose any of the following penalties:

(1) For a first offense, a fine of not more than two hundred fifty dollars, a definite term of imprisonment of not more than thirty days in jail, or both;

(2) For a second offense, a fine of not more than five hundred dollars, a definite term of imprisonment of not more than sixty days in jail, or both;

(3) For a third or subsequent offense, a fine of not more than one thousand dollars, a definite term of imprisonment of not more than ninety days in jail, or both..."

However, the Ohio Supreme Court has held that, "although...the General Assembly may prescribe procedure in indirect contempt cases, the power to punish for contempt has traditionally been regarded as inherent in the courts and not subject to legislative control." Cincinnati v. Cincinnati Dist. Council 51, 35 Ohio St.2d 197, 207, 299 N.E.2d 686 (1973).

If you or someone who cares about you has a question regarding contempt of court call attorney Michael C. Hennenberg to schedule a consultation.

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