Most people have heard of “restraining orders”. They are commonly referred to as something that someone can get, or attempt to get, against a person who they feel is a danger to them or causing substantial harassment or similar.
In fact, a restraining order is somewhat different to the court order generally used to prevent contact and require that someone maintain distance from a person. Such orders are knows as “protective orders“, and as the name suggests, are put in place in order to protect a person or family from someone that represents a threat.
A “restraining order” is more narrow court order that is designed to prevent someone from taking a certain specified kind of action. While it is possible that the action described in a restraining order could be the act of contact, in most cases a protective order would be employed for this situation. A restraining order is more likely to be issued to prevent someone in a civil case from taking an action, often to do with money, while the civil case is being determined. A common example is a restraining order put in place against one person in divorce proceedings that stops them from withdrawing funds from a shared bank account while financial splits are being determined.
What happens when a Protective Order is put in place?
A protective order is established against someone who has a history and some likelihood of harming or abusing a victim. The purpose of the protective order is to require that the accused abuser does not contact or interfere in the life of the victim. This can extend to all forms of communication, including email, phone, notes and even mail and package deliveries.
These orders are sometimes put in place in domestic situations in which the accused lives in the same household as the accuser. If put in place, this order means that the abuser must leave, regardless of whether it is the accused or the accuser that holds title to the property. This situation also usually leads to removal of custody and visitation rights for children of the accused. Finally, it may involve orders to pay costs that include household bills and child support.
What are the consequences of violating a Protective Order?
A protective order is intended to prevent further abuse and harassment which may have occurred in a given situation or relationship. The protective order provides very clear and unambiguous guidance on what behaviors are allowed in the presence or vicinity of the victim and what contacts are permitted (often none, perhaps with court proceedings pending or for some specified amount of time).
Therefore, given this clarity, the criminal justice system applies very harsh penalties to those that violate such an order, without regard to whether a case can be made for unfairness or inconvenience. Penalties and consequences will be even more extreme in cases where violation involves further abuse or harassment.
Often, such violations are treated as third-degree felonies, which involve particularly long prison sentences, and in many cases, since the circumstances demonstrate clear danger to the victims, no opportunity for bail or pretrial release.
Who can request a Protective Order?
Courts are very willing to apply a protective order in cases of family violence, stalking, sexual assault, human trafficking and harassment, especially where there are signals that the perpetrator has a history of such actions. Such cases are textbook examples of where the bail system is not applicable, since there is such clear and direct evidence that others are likely to be put in danger through release.