Difference Between Civil Contempt and Criminal Contempt in Maryland
In Hermina v. Baltimore Life Ins. Co., 128 Md. App. 568, 580, 739 A.2d 893 (1999), the Court explained the distinction between civil contempt and criminal contempt as follows:
A civil contempt proceeding is intended to preserve and enforce the rights of private parties to a suit and to compel obedience to orders and decrees primarily made to benefit such parties. These proceedings are generally remedial in nature and are intended to coerce future compliance. Thus, a penalty in a civil contempt must provide for purging. On the other hand, the penalty imposed in a criminal contempt is punishment for past misconduct which may not necessarily be capable of remedy. Therefore, such a penalty does not require a purging provision but may be purely punitive. In Maryland, to these factors must be added the degree of proof required to establish a contempt - a civil contempt need be proved only by a preponderance of the evidence, while a criminal contempt must be shown beyond a reasonable doubt.
"'Direct contempt' means a contempt committed in the presence of the judge presiding in court or so near to the judge as to interrupt the court's proceedings." Md. R. 15-202(b). "Any contempt that is not a direct contempt--'where the judge must look at extrinsic evidence to determine that a contempt has been committed'--is a constructive contempt." Fisher, 186 Md. App. at 115 ; see also Md. R. 15-202(a) ("'Constructive contempt' means any contempt other than a direct contempt.").
"In constructive contempt proceedings, the court must give the accused contemnor an opportunity to challenge the alleged contempt and show cause why a finding of contempt should not be entered." Fisher, 186 Md. App. at 119 .
Maryland Rule 15-206 controls the procedure for constructive civil contempt.
In Fisher v. McCrary Crescent City, LLC, 186 Md. App. 86, 113, 972 A.2d 954 (2009), cert. denied, 131 S. Ct. 637, 178 L. Ed. 2d 476 (2010), the Court explained when a constructive civil contempt proceeding may be brought, stating:
A party, the Attorney General, or the court may institute a constructive civil contempt proceeding when (1) the movant intends to file or filed the proceeding as a continuation of the original action, as opposed to a separate and independent action; (2) the movant seeks relief to benefit themselves or a party instead of punishing the alleged contemnor; (3) the acts complained of do not of themselves constitute crimes or conduct by the defendant so wilful or contumacious that the court is impelled to act on its own motion; and (4) the contempt is not a direct contempt.
"Unless the court finds that a petition for contempt is frivolous on its face, the court shall enter an order providing for (i) a prehearing conference, or (ii) a hearing, or (iii) both. The scheduled hearing date shall allow a reasonable time for the preparation of a defense and may not be less than 20 days after the prehearing conference." Md. R. 15-206(c)(2).
"The order, together with a copy of any petition and other document filed in support of the allegation of contempt, shall be served on the alleged contemnor pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-121 controlling service of process in the circuit court or, if the alleged contemnor has appeared as a party in the action in which the contempt is charged, in the manner prescribed by the court." Md. R. 15-206(d).
The procedure for constructive criminal contempt is controlled by Maryland Rule 15-205. In Fisher, 186 Md. App. at 120-21, the Court explained:
The court, the State's Attorney, the Attorney General, or the State Prosecutor, depending on the circumstances, may institute a constructive criminal contempt proceeding when (1) the movant intends to file or filed the proceeding as a separate action as opposed to a continuation of the original action; (2) the alleged contemnor willfully violated or attempted to frustrate a court order, such that the alleged contemnor offended the dignity or process of the court; (3) the act was not a direct contempt; and (4) the movant seeks to punish the alleged contemnor for his act.
"An order filed by the court . . . shall contain the information required by Rule 4-202 (a), controlling the contents of a charging document. The order or petition shall be served, along with a summons or warrant, in the manner specified in Rule 4-212, controlling service of a summons, or, if the proceeding is in the Court of Appeals or Court of Special Appeals, in the manner directed by that court." Md. R. 15-205(d).
Pursuant to Maryland Rule 15-207(d)(1) and (2), in all proceedings for contempt for ac actions other than failure to pay spousal or child support, when a court or jury makes a finding of contempt, the court shall issue a written order that specifies the sanction imposed for the contempt. In the case of a civil contempt, the order shall specify how the contempt may be purged. In the case of a criminal contempt, if the sanction is incarceration, the order shall specify a determinate term and any condition under which the sanction may be suspended, modified, revoked, or terminated.