Protective orders are often misunderstood and are often shrugged off as unimportant. It might be thought that because it is not a criminal charge, it is no big deal. Wrong! A protective order can be a huge deal. It is a powerful tool that prosecutors and private attorneys can wield to restrict a person's constitutional rights. A full understanding of what a protective order is, and how to respond when faced with the possibility of having one against you, is extremely important.
What is a Protective Order?
In its most simple form, it is an order given down from a Judge restricting the access and rights of a person who was found to have committed family violence. A person is entitled to the protection of one if the court finds that family violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future. Most protective orders last 2 years. In more serious cases involving serious bodily injury or felony assaults, the order can last much longer.
What is Family Violence?
Family violence is a term that may seem self-explanatory but is often misunderstood. It encompasses quite a wide range of actions and persons outside of traditional "family." It is defined as an act of violence, including threats of violence, against a family member (by blood or marriage), someone you are having or have had a dating relationship with, or simply a member of a household.
As you can see, it can obviously include your family, even your own children. But it also includes current and even former girlfriends or boyfriends. Even people with no relation but living in the same household can qualify for a protective order.
How Can a Protective Order Impact Me?
This is the most important thing to consider as it can have huge impacts on your life. The effects of a protective order can be very restrictive.
A court may prohibit you from doing all the following and more:
- Committing further family violence
- Going to or near the residence or place of employment of the protected person
- Possessing a firearm
- Communicating directly or in any manner with the person protected by the order.
- Communicating directly or in any manner of the protected person's family members or household.
- Acting in a manner that is directed towards a protected person that might annoy, embarrass or harass that person.
- Harming or threatening to harm a pet under the care of the protected person.
Furthermore, a court must suspend your license to carry a handgun and the ability to get one. It may also require you to take intensive classes concerning assault and family violence and pay certain costs and fees associated with the court hearings.
Often, people's lives are very intertwined and co-mingled with someone who is seeking a protective order against them. For this reason, you can see that these restrictions could cause some serious practical issues in your day to day life. You can be prohibited from going back to your home. It might be hard to retrieve your personal items like clothes, money, and valuables left in a home you shared. It can be difficult to see your children, as communication is strictly prohibited. Your ability to go certain places might be impacted and you can't possess firearms you legally own.
Most importantly though, violating any of these prohibitions is a crime, and can land you serious jail time. A court can independently hold you responsible for a violation and hold you in jail up to six months and fine you as much as $500. Alternatively, you may be arrested, and a criminal case brought against you, leading to a conviction and more serious jail time and fines.
This is why it is important to fight any proposed protective order against you!
What Should I Do?
The absolute most important thing you must do is show up for your court date. If you fail to show up, a default order will be entered against you. This means you lose the case without having a hearing and will likely be under the severe restrictions for the full two years.
You will be served notice of the court date with papers. Reading through the paperwork can be helpful. It will contain the date of your appearance and might contain specific allegations against you. This can be important in crafting a defense.
Secondly, never contact the person asking for a protective order against you. Sometimes, a temporary protective order will be issued before a formal hearing. It is important not to contact that person, so you don't violate any sort of court order. Plus, anything you say will be able to be used against you, so it's best to just prepare for court.
Finally, never agree to a protective order without speaking to an attorney. You have the right to have an attorney there to represent you and your interests. If you happen to show up to court without one, be sure to ask for extra time to hire one before you agree to do anything else. A Judge doesn't necessarily have to grant you extra time, but often will.
An attorney experienced in protective order hearings will have the knowledge and ability to help you through this process. It might be suggested to consider negotiating with the other side. Sometimes it is best to settle the case for a less restrictive agreement.
Ultimately though, you have a right to a hearing and should take advantage of that fact if a good resolution is not available without one. Don't be afraid to stand up for your rights and tell your side of the story. A protective order hearing is often fraught with emotion because it involves family members and loved ones. Knowing your rights and how to confront allegations can go a long way to getting through this experience with a good outcome.