Criminal Appeal from the Municipal Court of Columbiana County, Ohio Case No. 12 TRC 2082
For Plaintiff-Appellee: Atty. Robert Herron Columbiana County Prosecutor Atty. Megan Payne Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.
For Defendant-Appellant: Atty. Douglas A. King Hartford, Dickey & King Co., LPA
JUDGES: Hon. Cheryl L. Waite Hon. Gene Donofrio Hon. Joseph J. Vukovich
(¶1} Appellant Alicia Stafford was charged in the Columbiana County Municipal Court with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs (OVI) and driving outside marked lanes. At the pre-trial hearing, the trial judge believed that Appellant presented herself to the court while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and ordered a drug test to be performed immediately. The judge interpreted the results as positive for methamphetamines. The court then cited Appellant for direct contempt and imposed 30 days in jail, effective immediately. She now appeals the contempt citation. Appellant argues that she could not be convicted of contempt because she did not violate any court order, that the 30-day jail term was too harsh, and that the drug test violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment. Although we do not completely adopt any of Appellant's arguments, we have determined that the contempt charge is not supported by the record. The results of the drug test are not part of the record, and Appellee does not present any particular legal basis for the administration of the test as part of a pre-trial hearing. Although the record reflects that the trial judge could have properly cited Appellant for contempt because her apparent intoxication prevented the pre-trial hearing from continuing, the contempt conviction was explicitly based on a drug test that is not part of the record. Therefore, Appellant's first and third assignments of error are meritorious. The judgment of the trial court is reversed and the contempt charge is dismissed.
(¶2} On April 22, 2012, Appellant was cited in New Waterford, Ohio, for OVI, a violation of R.C. 4511.19(A)(1), (9), and for driving outside of marked lanes, a violation of R.C. 4511.33. This was Appellant's second OVI offense within six years. She appeared in court on April 24, 2012, and was released on a $1, 000 bond. Pretrial was scheduled for May 3, 2012.
(¶3} Appellant appeared in court on the day of the pre-trial hearing showing signs that she could not fully participate in the hearing. The court immediately ordered some type of drug test to be administered. There are no actual details about this drug test in the record, nor can the results of the test be found. The trial judge believed that the results of the drug test indicated a positive result for methamphetamines. Based on the results of the drug test, the court held Appellant in direct contempt for appearing in an impaired condition. The court imposed a 30-day jail term and ordered Appellant be taken directly to jail. Pre-trial on the original charges was reset for May 17, 2012. The court filed the judgment entry of contempt on May 3, 2012.
(¶4} The prosecutor and Appellant later entered a Crim.R. 11 plea agreement on the OVI and marked lanes charges. Appellant appeared in court on May 17, 2012, to plead no contest to the two criminal charges. The court engaged in a plea colloquy and accepted the change of plea. The court imposed 180 days of jail time, with 166 suspended, and credit was given for 14 days. The court also imposed a fine, a license suspension, probation, and community service. The court entered its judgment on May 17, 2012, and this appeal followed. Appellant has not yet served the remaining jail time on her contempt conviction.
ASSIGNMENTS OF ERROR NOS. 1 AND 3
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN FINDING THE APPELLANT GUILTY OF DIRECT CRIMINAL CONTEMPT.
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED, ABUSED ITS DISCRETION AND VIOLATED DEFENDANT'S DUE PROCESS AND CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS WHEN IT ORDERED DEFENDANT TO SUBMIT TO AN INFORMAL DRUG TEST.
(¶5} Appellant contends that arriving in court under the influence of methamphetamines, without further evidence that she disobeyed a court order or disrupted court proceedings, cannot be sufficient to support a charge of direct criminal contempt. Appellant also argues that it was improper to base the contempt conviction on a drug test that cannot be justified by any rule or statute and that is not substantiated by the record. Appellant believes that the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures should have prevented the court from ordering an immediate drug test and using the instant results of that test to convict her of contempt.
(¶6} Contempt proceedings are typically classified as civil or criminal, based on the purpose of the sanctions imposed. State v. Kilbane, 61 Ohio St.2d 201, 205, 400 N.E.2d 386 (1980). If the sanctions are intended to coerce the contemnor to comply with lawful orders of the court, the contempt proceeding is civil. Id. at 204-205. On the other hand, if the punishment is punitive in nature and is designed to vindicate the court's authority, the contempt proceeding is criminal. Id. "[C]ivil contempts are characterized as violations against the party for whose benefit the order was made, whereas criminal contempts are most often ...