Courts issue restraining orders to protect victims of domestic violence from abuse or further acts of harassment, threats, abuse, or stalking. A restraining order may forbid you from contacting the alleged victim in any way, including text messages, emails, social media messages, and phone calls. Also, the order could prevent indirect communication, like sending messages through a third party. Violating a restraining order can carry significant legal consequences. You can get charged for a misdemeanor or felony. If convicted, the court could slap you with a hefty fine or send you to county jail.
That's why if you are accused of violating a restraining order in Los Angeles, CA, you need to consult a criminal defense lawyer right away. Our attorneys at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm have a vast knowledge of the charges associated with restraining order violation and can defend your rights and your freedom.
Violation of a Restraining Order in California Law
Violation of a restraining order falls under California Penal Code Section 273.6 PC. According to this statute, it is a criminal offense to violate a lawfully issued court protective order.
What is a Court Restraining Order?
A domestic violence restraining order (also called a protective order) is an order of protection used under the domestic violence laws of California. The court issues an order to stop an offender from further threatening, harassing, stalking, or physically harming the victim. Often the court will direct the offender to stop all direct and indirect contact with the petitioner.
Typically, current or former spouses, partners, significant others, and co-habitants file domestic violence restraining orders. Also, children aged 12 years or older can file a protective order on their own. Or, someone else can file a domestic violence restraining order on behalf of a child.
Types of Domestic Violence Restraining Orders in California
If you are involved in domestic violence, you can get one of the four restraining orders.
1. Emergency Protective Orders (EPO)
An emergency restraining order gives short-term or interim protection to the victim as he or she applies for more permanent restraining orders. Usually, a police officer responding to a domestic violence scene at any time of day or night can call a judge to request an EPO. The judge could order you to leave home immediately and stay away from the alleged victim for up to seven days. Within the seven day duration, the victim can go to court to file for a temporary restraining order if he or she desires.
2. Temporary Restraining Order (TRO)
The alleged victim can go to court to seek a domestic violence protective order. The victim will tell the judge what happened and why he or she needs a restraining order. If the judge is convinced that the victim needs protection, the court will issue a temporary restraining order. The TRO usually is active for between 20 and 25 days within which the court will set a hearing date.
3. Permanent Restraining Order (PRO)
During the hearing scheduled for the TRO, a judge may issue a permanent restraining order. The PRO is not "permanent" but can usually last for up to five years. The PRO significantly restricts your freedom. Hence the court will hear the prosecution and your defense before deciding whether to issue the order.
At the end of the five years or earlier, depending on whenever the PRO runs out, the alleged victim can seek a new restraining order to keep you further restricted.
4. Criminal Protective Order (CPO)
Sometimes, when involved in domestic violence incidents, the district attorney can file criminal charges against you. The charges will start a criminal court case. Often the criminal court will issue a protective order against you while the case is ongoing. If found or you plead guilty, the CPO can continue for three years after the trial ends.
The type of restraining order you get is crucial because it inhibits your freedom to go wherever you want and contact whomever you want. That's why you need to speak to an experienced defense lawyer right away if someone is seeking a protective order against you.
Ways You Can Violate a Domestic Violence Restraining Order
There are many ways you can violate the terms and conditions of a protective order. They include, but are not limited to, the following:
- If you fail to move out of a house where you cohabit with the protected person
- Failure to keep off of your home
- When you fail to stay away from the protected person's place of work. And the victim's place of work could be yours too if you both work at the same place
- Failing to stay away from children's school(s)
- If you made contact with the protected person when the court gave you a no-contact order. You can violate the no-contact order in person or through another person, by phone, text, email, letter, or through social networking
- Threatening the protected person with physical violence
- Failing to follow a court order on child visitation
- Failing to obey a court order on child or partner/spousal support
- Failing to pay bills specified in the order
- Failing to return the property as directed by a court order
- Possessing a gun and ammunition. Often a domestic protective order will need you to surrender any firearm you have while the order is in force, and,
- Possessing or using a gun while you had a prior misdemeanor domestic violence crime or any felony
Elements the Prosecution Must Prove in a Violation of a Restraining Order Case
A prosecutor may charge you with violating the restraining order under Penal Code 273.6 PC if you fail to adhere to the terms and conditions of the order. But to convict you, the prosecution must prove the three elements of the crime. That is, the restraining order was legal, you knew about it, and you intentionally violated it.
The elements are as detailed below.
The Judge Issued a Legal Restraining Order
First, the prosecution needs to show that the court had jurisdiction to issue the protective order.
And two, there should be a legal basis to issue the order. Meaning the court has to examine the circumstances of the case and find reasonable grounds to believe that you will harm the victim.
You Knew About the Order
Before convicting you of violating a protective order, the prosecutor must prove that you knew about the order. Or show that you had the "opportunity" to read the order, even if you didn't.
California law is explicit on how you can be made aware of a restrictive court order. If you are the subject of a restraining order, the law demands that you get a notice that your freedom is being restricted. The notice can be served in three ways:
- When you are in court, the judge can orally serve the notice to you
- A third party, such as a police officer, can serve you with a written restraining order, and
- An officer called to enforce the order and establishes that you were not aware of the existence of the order can verbally serve you
With Intent, You Violated One or More Conditions of the Order
You are committing a crime if, with intention, you choose to disobey a legal court restraining order that you know about. If, for instance, the court ordered you not to contact your ex-partner, but you send her flowers to show remorse for the violent incident that occurred between you, then the prosecution can accuse you of intentionally violating the protective order.
But, if the court ordered you to maintain a certain distance from your partner and you accidentally bump into her at the supermarket, then you cannot be accused of intentionally violating the order. In the case of such an accidental meeting, you must try not to speak with the alleged victim; also, you must promptly leave the area.
Common Defenses When You Violate a Domestic Violence Restraining Order
When accused of violating a restraining order in California, you need to seek the services of a lawyer to plan your defense. An experienced lawyer can use strategies discussed below to mount a strong defense and get you a not guilty verdict.
The Judge didn't Legally Issue a Restraining Order
Some restraining orders can be invalid because of two reasons. One, the court issuing the order didn't have proper jurisdiction to do so. And two, the court did not have a legal basis for issuing the order. These two conditions make the restraining order itself illegal. Thus, it can't bind you.
If you believe you got issued an invalid restraining order, you need to consult with an experienced defense lawyer immediately. The lawyer can help you to challenge the order before you get arrested for violating it.
You were not Aware of the Restraining Order
You can't be held criminally accountable for violating a restraining order that you aren't aware of.
For instance, a judge can issue a restraining order without holding a hearing. If that happened, you wouldn't know about the order unless someone, often a police officer, informed you and served you with a copy.
But if the law enforcement officer failed to give you a proper notice of the order, then you can't be convicted of violating the restraining order.
So, your defense attorney needs to prove that you were not in court when the judge issued the restraining order. Or you were not at the scene when the police officer told the alleged victim that the judge had granted the request for an emergency protective order.
Yet in some cases favorable to you, the police can mail the written order to a wrong address, or even serve the wrong person by mistake.
That's why if charged with a domestic violence restraining order violation, you need a lawyer. Experienced defense lawyers understand these intricacies and can use them to defend you.
You didn't have the Intention to Violate the Restraining Order
Even if you were aware of the order and its terms, the court can't convict you of violating the order if the alleged actions in your violation were not intentional.
As discussed above, you might accidentally run into the protected person in a social function or at a public place. This does not show your intent to violate the court orders, so you can't be held responsible.
You were Falsely Accused of Violating the Restraining Order
Another way to defend yourself against violating a restraining order is through proof of a false accusation.
What happens if the protected person contacts you first?
If a protected person contacts you while a "no contact" order is still in place, be on extra alert because it could be a plan to set you up for criminal charges. Remember, it is only the court that can stop the order, and until that happens, you have to obey it. Because, once you make contact, regardless of if the protected person contacted you first, you will have violated the restraining order and so liable for criminal charges.
A worst-case scenario can occur where the protected person outrightly lies. He or she can accuse you of making contact, stalking, or doing other acts that don't need physical proof. Often revenge, anger, jealousy, or custody battles can motivate a protected person to accuse you falsely.
A lawyer with experience in violation of restraining order laws can successfully defend you against false accusations. For example, when there is no corroborating evidence, the case is usually reduced to a he said/she said situation. The prosecutor may have a difficult time proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt that you violated the order.
The Restraining Order Violates your Constitutional Rights
An experienced attorney may convince a court to set aside your restraining order charges by arguing that the order violates your legal rights.
What to Do If You Are Under Investigation for Violating a Restraining Order
If under investigation or charged with violating a restraining order in Los Angeles, you need to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer. It's essential to understand the limitations the order will make on your life. You need to have more information on the terms and conditions of the protective order and when it will be legally enforced.
Typically, the person accusing you of violating the order will file a police report, and a detective will be assigned to your case. Don't make any statements to the police if they contact you because you might incriminate yourself. Instead, engage a defense lawyer immediately. Early intervention into your case by an expert lawyer is most likely to produce the best possible outcome.
Penalties for Violating a Restraining Order in California
Generally, violating a restraining order is a misdemeanor or felony offense under California law Penal Code Section 273.6. The penalties you suffer will vary depending on the facts of the case, injuries to the victim, and whether it's your first or a successive violation.
If you deliberately and knowingly violate a protective order, you will likely suffer the following criminal consequences:
Penalties for Misdemeanor Restraining Order Violation
The penalty for a misdemeanor restraining order violation is up to a year in jail and/or a maximum fine of $1,000. The fine could increase to $2,000 if the protected person suffered physical injury. The court may also apply extra sentence enhancements.
For instance, the judge can grant you probation with conditions such as:
- 52 weeks of compulsory domestic violence or anger management classes
- Substance abuse counseling
- Paying restitution to the victim of up to $5,000; and/or
- Reimbursing the victim for any medical or counseling expenses incurred because of the offense.
If you violate a protective order that resulted in the victim suffering physical injury, you will serve a compulsory term of at least 30 days in county jail.
The penalty is stiffer if you violate a restraining order for a second time within one year, and the protected person suffers a physical injury. Here California law requires that you serve a compulsory minimum term of six months in jail.
But, if you serve at least 48 hours in jail on a mandatory 30-day sentence or at least 30 days on a six-month mandatory sentence, the court has the discretion to waive the rest of the sentence.
Further, if you violate a restriction order for the second time within seven years through a threat or act of violence, the violation becomes a wobbler, which means you will face either a misdemeanor or a felony sentence.
Penalties for Felony Restraining Order Violation
If convicted of a felony violation of a protective order, the penalties are a three to five-year formal probation supervised by a probation officer. The punishment may include or not include a condition that you serve a maximum of one year in jail; or 16 months or two or three years in prison. The penalty might also include a maximum fine of $10,000.
Also, violating a domestic violence protective order may result in the following conditions:
- Your child visitation rights may be lost or reduced
- You could face an increase in spousal or child support payments
- The court could add more terms that relate to the reasons you violated the order, or
- The Permanent Restraining Order could be extended to the maximum length of 10 years
Penalties for a Second Restraining Order Violation
If you violate a restraining order for the second time within a year, you can still face a misdemeanor or felony charge. As shown above, the misdemeanor conviction can get you up to one year in jail, while the felony conviction gets you stiffer jail time, fines, and probation.
Eventually, the judge decides on the appropriate punishment after examining the facts of the case and any mitigating circumstances.
Violating a Domestic Violence Restraining Order While on Probation in CA
When you violate a restraining order while on probation, the court can decide to sentence you to supervised probation. When placed under supervised probation, you are expected not to violate any laws until the probation ends. If you violate any law, including another restraining order, the law requires you to serve the initial criminal sentence.
Firearm Restriction While Under a Domestic Violence Restriction Order
If you have an active protective order against you, it's illegal to own or buy a firearm. California law requires you to immediately surrender the weapons and ammunition to the police or sell them to a licensed gun dealer.
But if you deliberately keep your firearm, you can face misdemeanor charges. If you buy, or even attempt to buy a gun, it's a "wobbler" offense that carries a maximum of 3 years in state prison if convicted.
Expungement of Records After a Domestic Violence Restriction Order Conviction
If you were convicted of a crime, it becomes difficult to find a job and advance your life. Because most employers and landlords now run background checks, which will show your past criminal history. So expunging your criminal record can have a considerable impact on your quality of life.
And if the court had convicted you under California Penal Code Section 273.6, it could expunge your records if you completed the conditions of your sentence and probation; didn't commit new violations or crimes, and you didn't serve time in state prison.
Thus a potential employer or landlord can't use your past conviction against you.
Find a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
Violating a California domestic violence protection order is a severe criminal offense. If you or someone you love gets charged with violating a court restraining order or served with notice of a restraining order hearing, consult with a skilled criminal defense lawyer right away. Our attorneys at The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm have many years' experience defending clients accused of violating restraining orders. We may be able to show that you did not intentionally or knowingly violate the order hence can't be held responsible. If it appears that the court will likely impose penalties, we will fight hard to have you placed on probation rather than to serve a jail sentence. Call us today at 310-935-1675 for a consultation.