Courts Cannot Impose “No-Contact” Order and Prison Term for Same Felony
A trial court cannot impose a no-contact order and a prison term as sanctions for the same criminal offense because they are alternative punishments, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.
A no-contact order is a community-control sanction, which courts order instead of prison, so a trial court must choose between imposing a no-contact order or a prison sentence when sentencing a felony offender, the court explained.
Original Sentence Had Both
David M. Anderson was convicted of kidnapping and rape. A Summit County trial court imposed a 10-year prison term for rape and a seven-year prison term for kidnapping to be served consecutively for a total of 17 years in prison. The court also imposed a no-contact order that prohibited Anderson from contacting the victim. Anderson appealed, challenging, among other things, whether the trial court could impose both a prison term and a no-contact order. In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth District Court of Appeals held that the trial court had authority to impose prison and the no-contact order as part of Anderson’s criminal sentence. The dissenting judge would have held that the trial court was required to choose between one or the other for Anderson’s sentence.
Appellate Districts Conflict
The Ninth District’s decision conflicted with two decisions from the Eighth District Court of Appeals, which had held that no authority permits a court to impose a no-contact order when the trial court has already imposed a prison term for the same offense. The conflict between the Eighth and Ninth District courts of appeals was certified to the Supreme Court for resolution.
The Office of the Ohio Public Defender filed a brief in support of Anderson’s position. The office noted that it represents criminal defendants post-trial, and that no-contact orders placed on offenders means the attorneys representing them also cannot have contact with the victims. The public defender argued that preventing contact could have unintended consequences that could prevent access to additional evidence needed in appeal, or could stall any attempts of reconciliation between the victim and offender.
Decision Resolves Conflict of Appellate Courts
Writing for the court, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy explained that a no-contact order qualifies as a community control sanction under state statutes. The court noted that, in 1995, Senate Bill 2 replaced probation, which had permitted judges to suspend criminal sentences, with community-control sanctions, which are sentences imposed instead of prison for criminal offenses. The Supreme Court held that, as amended, the language in the felony-sentencing statutes dictates that community-control sanctions and prison terms are alternative sanctions for a criminal offense.
“Therefore we hold as a general rule, when a prison term and community control are possible sentences for a particular felony offense, absent an express exception, the court must impose either a prison term or a community control sanction or sanctions,” Justice Kennedy wrote.
Joining Justice Kennedy’s opinion were Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Paul E. Pfeifer, Terrence O’Donnell, Judith L. French, and William M. O’Neill.
Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger concurred in judgment only.
Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.
PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.