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Violating a Restraining Order

A restraining order is a court order to prevent contact between the petitioner (the person filing the order and seeking protection) and the subject of the order (the restrained person). A restraining order is often issued after a domestic violence arrest or because of stalking or harassment. There are civil and criminal penalties for violating a restraining order.

Violating a restraining order is a serious crime and can result in jail time, even for a first offense. This page provides a general overview of protective order violations with links to more detailed articles that can help you answer specific questions about your case. Because criminal law is set by each individual state, we suggest consulting a criminal defense lawyer in a city near you to give you the best advice about your individual situation.

What Is a Restraining Order?

Also called protection orders or protective orders, a restraining order generally limits contact or communication between the parties involved. The specific order will vary according to the circumstances and reason for seeking the restraining order, but may include:

  • Prohibiting contact with the victim or victim’s family;
  • Prohibiting violence, threats of violence, or damage to property;
  • Granting possession of property such as a residence or a vehicle to the person seeking the restraining order;
  • Granting temporary custody of a minor child;
  • Requiring the restrained person to attend counseling or substance abuse treatment; or
  • Prohibiting the possession of a firearm.

Types of protective orders include:

  • Emergency Protective Orders (EPOs): An EPO may be requested by a police officer if the officer believes there may be a threat of further abuse or violence.
  • Preliminary Protective Orders (PPOs)A judge can issue a PPO based on the statement of the accused but a PPO is generally a temporary order.
  • Permanent Protective Orders (POs)A PO can last for a year or more. For a PO, the court will hold a hearing where the petitioner and respondent both have an opportunity to present their side of the case.

Emergency Protective Orders

Emergency protective orders or temporary restraining orders (TROs) may be issued without giving the restrained person a chance to respond to the allegations of physical abuse or harassment. A TRO is a short-term injunction that can be issued before trial is underway, particularly in situations that are too dire to wait for the lengthy trial process to conclude. This means that the defendant (the person against whom the restraining order is sought) may not have a chance to contest a temporary order. However, for long-term or permanent restraining orders, the defendant will have a chance to respond and give their side of the story.

What Communication Does an Order of Protection Prohibit?

Most protection orders prevent any in-person contact. They may prohibit the restrained person from showing up to the petitioner’s home, place of work, or even the homes of the petitioner’s family. Often, orders also prohibit any communication. Prohibited communication generally includes any electronic contact, including:

  • Phone calls
  • Text messages
  • Emails
  • Social media posts
  • Sending videos or images

What Happens When You Violate a Restraining Order?

If someone breaks a restraining order, it should be reported to the police or the courts. After a violation, the suspect may be contacted by the police, and either given a warning or taken into custody.

Depending on the specific situation, the suspect may be charged with criminal violation of the restraining order. In addition, the terms of the protection order may be amended to make them more strict.

The alleged victim does not have to be the one reporting the violation. Even if the alleged victim does not want to press charges, the subject of the order can be penalized. In some cases, the victim is actively seeking contact with the subject of the order. If someone is subject to a protection order, they should make sure the order is vacated or removed before having any contact with the victim. Talk to your criminal defense lawyer for advice.

Can You Go to Jail for Breaking a Restraining Order?

In most states, breaking an order of protection is a misdemeanor offense. Even a one-time violation can result in jail time. However, the length of the jail sentence may depend on several factors such as:

  • Whether there have been multiple violations of the restraining order;
  • Whether the defendant has a prior criminal record;
  • Whether the defendant has a criminal history of violent criminal charges; and
  • The nature of and scope of any threats of violence.

In Virginia, for example, violating a protective order is a misdemeanor offense. As a misdemeanor, the penalties for violating a restraining order can include up to a year in county jail. A second offense includes a mandatory minimum sentence of 60 days in jail. Multiple violations (3 or more) of a protection order is a Class 6 felony. A conviction for felony violations of a restraining order can result in 1 to 5 years’ imprisonment.

In Texas, violating a protective order is a Class A misdemeanor, which includes up to one year in jail. However, if the petitioner was a victim of sexual abuse or stalking, violating a protective order can be charged as a state felony, with penalties including up to 2 years in state prison.

Domestic Abuse and Restraining Orders

The most common reason to issue a restraining order occurs when there have been allegations of domestic abuse or violence. Domestic violence involves assault or battery against a family member, romantic partner, or anyone living in your household—and can also land you in jail.

After a domestic abuse arrest, the court may issue an ex parte protection order (meaning “outside the parties,” in that it may leave out the interests of an affected party). An ex parte order of protection is a temporary order that can be issued without the accused person having a chance to give their side of the story. If the court seeks a permanent protection order, the accused will have a chance to respond in court.

Stalking and Protection Orders

Stalking is a criminal offense that involves repeated and unwanted contact, communication, or harassment. For example, in California, stalking involves repeatedly following or harassing a person and making a credible threat to place the victim in reasonable fear for their safety. An alleged victim of stalking can generally obtain a protection order against the alleged stalker.

Contact a local criminal defense attorney to help you clear up a restraining order. Your lawyer can also help you avoid criminal penalties if you are accused of violating the protection order.

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