Difference Between Civil and Criminal Contempt In Ohio
The court in Dayton Women's Health Ctr. v. Enix (1991), 68 Ohio App. 3d 579, 591-592, 589 N.E.2d 121, 129, succinctly spells out the distinction in purpose between civil and criminal contempt: "Sanctions for criminal contempt thus share three traditional characteristics:
(1) the sanction is a punishment;
(2) the sanction is imposed for conduct that has occurred in the past;
(3) the purpose of the sanction is to uphold the authority of the court.
Civil contempt produces a remedial sanction, which is one intended to coerce the termination of specific misconduct which constitutes a continuing contempt of court."
The Supreme Court of Ohio comprehensively contrasts the punitive unconditional sanction of criminal contempt with the remedial conditional sanction of civil contempt in Brown v. Executive, 64 Ohio St. 2d at 253, 18 Ohio Op. 3d at 448-449, 416 N.E.2d at 613,:
"While both types of contempt contain an element of punishment, courts distinguish criminal and civil contempt not on the basis of punishment, but rather, by the character and purpose of the punishment Punishment is remedial or coercive and for the benefit of the complainant in civil contempt.
Prison sentences are conditional.
The contemnor is said to carry the keys of his prison in his own pocket since he will be freed if he agrees to do as ordered.
Criminal contempt, on the other hand, is usually characterized by an unconditional prison term.
Such imprisonment operates not as a remedy coercive in its nature but as punishment for the completed act of disobedience, and to vindicate the authority of the law and court."
As noted by the United States Supreme Court in Hicks v. Feiock (1988), 485 U.S. 624, 631, 108 S. Ct. 1423, 1429, 99 L. Ed. 2d 721, 731:
"If the finding is for civil contempt the punishment is remedial, and for the benefit of the complainant.
But if it is for criminal contempt the sentence is punitive, to vindicate the authority of the court."