In DC, a Civil Protection Order (CPO) is very similar to a restraining order. Its a court order that requires a person to do or not to do certain acts. For example, if your ex-spouse is harassing or stalking you, you can file a petition with the court to order your ex-spouse to have no contact with you.
The person who files for a CPO is called the “Petitioner.” The person who a CPO is filed against is called the “Respondent.” Any person can file for a CPO if they feel like they need to protect themselves against someone they have an “intrafamily relationship” with. In general, a CPO will require the respondent to stay at least 100 feet away from the petitioner at all times and to have no contact with the petitioner—including electronic and social media communications. It also usually bars communicating with the person through ha third-party. The terms of a CPO can vary depending on a petitioner’s situation.
To get a CPO, a petitioner has to go to a Domestic Violence Intake Center in DC Superior Court and file a CPO petition. This petition is signed by the petitioner under oath. After you file the petition, you will be given a court date for the CPO hearing. Before the hearing, you must properly serve the respondent with notice of the CPO hearing. You cannot serve the respondent personally. The process server must be some other individual who is older than 18 years of age.
The first hearing will be for what’s called a “Temporary Protection Order” or TRO. That hearing is conducted ex parte, meaning with only one side—the Petitioner. The standard is extremely low and judges routinely grant the TPO. The TPO stays in effect for 10 business days.
After the respondent is served, a CPO hearing is set. At the CPO hearing, you must prove to the judge that the respondent committed or threatened to commit a crime against you. It is imperative that you bring evidence and witnesses to the hearing to help you prove your allegations. The court will issue a CPO if the judge makes a finding that the respondent committed or threatened to commit a crime against you. If the respondent does not show up to the court date, a CPO may be entered by default.
The purpose of a CPO is to protect the petitioner, not necessarily to punish the respondent. However, if the respondent violates the terms of a CPO, the petitioner may pursue criminal charges against the respondent. You can report CPO violations in two ways: (1) call the police or (2) file a motion for criminal contempt.
If the respondent is arrested, or if you file a motion for criminal contempt, the court will issue a new court date during which a judge will determine if the respondent violated the CPO. You must testify before the judge to prove that the respondent violated the terms of the CPO. If a judge finds that the respondent violated the CPO, he or she may have to serve jail time, spend time on probation time, and/or pay fines to the court. If you file a Motion for Contempt, the first step in the process is for the Office of the Attorney General (the same agency that prosecutes DC DUI cases) to determine whether to prosecute the allegations.
A CPO is usually valid for 1 year. If you would like to modify, extend, or vacate the CPO, you must do so through the court. You cannot unilaterally alter the terms of a CPO. To modify, extend, or vacate the CPO, you have to file a motion with the court explaining why you want to change the terms of the CPO. You will be given a new court date, at which time you will explain to a judge why you want to change the terms of the CPO.