Unlike most criminal cases, a Civil Protection Order (“CPO”), which is like a restraining order, does not carry any jail time. A CPO is a court order that requires one person to stay away from another. If someone serves you with a temporary protection order and summons for a CPO hearing, then the court considers you the respondent. The person who files for the CPO is considered the petitioner.
What is a temporary protection order?
A temporary protection order or “TPO” is similar to a CPO, except it only remains in effect for 14 days. The purpose of a TPO is to protect the petitioner until a later hearing can be held for a judge to determine whether to convert the TPO into a CPO. The main difference between the two is that a TPO remains in effect for fourteen days while a CPO remains in effect for one year.
What are the requirements to obtain a TPO or CPO?
The way the process works is that a petitioner will usually file with the court a request for a TPO and CPO. The first requirement is that the petitioner must be in what the law calls an “intrafamily relationship” with the respondent. However, the law broadly defines an intrafamily relationship to include anyone related by blood, marriage, currently or formerly in a romantic relationship, or even roommates. The second thing the petitioner must allege is that the respondent either harassed, assaulted, stalked or threatened the petitioner.
Once the petitioner files the request for TPO, an expedited hearing will occur for the judge to determine whether to issue the TPO. The petitioner must show that they are in danger and need protection. The hearing is “ex parte” which means the respondent is not present and the judge takes the petitioner’s allegations and assumes they are true. If the judge feels it’s appropriate to issue a TPO, then the petitioner must serve the respondent with the TPO and a summons for a CPO hearing.
How do you serve a respondent in a TPO or CPO case?
Once the Court grants a TPO, the petitioner must serve the respondent. Service must be done in person and cannot be done by mail. In addition, the petitioner cannot personally serve the respondent. The Court gives a few options including hiring a process server or requesting that the Metropolitan Police Department affect service.
Usually, if the petitioner is unable to serve the respondent before the CPO hearing, the Court will give additional time for service and extend the TPO for another two weeks.
Laws vary throughout the country, but in our area, if the judge denies the TPO, the petitioner may still proceed and request a CPO at a later trial. The judge may find that the respondent is not in danger, but that does not mean the underlying criminal activity did not occur. Accordingly, even if someone is not in imminent danger, they may still prevail at a trial in a CPO hearing.
What happens at CPO hearing?
Once the petitioner serves the respondent, the respondent will have a summons to come to court usually within 14 days of when the petitioner filed the TPO. At the hearing, the parties will check in first thing in the morning. The court will call the case and usually pass it to give the parties a chance to negotiate with a court employed attorney mediator. Often times, if the respondent has time to hire an attorney, the attorney may ask the judge for a continuance. The lawyer will likely have only recently been retained given the quick turnaround between the TPO and CPO hearing.
Judges will usually grant a request for a hearing for a respondent to hire a lawyer or for a respondent’s newly retained attorney to get caught up and prepared to defend the allegations. If the parties are ready and do not reach a settlement with the attorney negotiator, then they will have a trial.
What is the burden of proof at a CPO hearing?
Unlike in criminal cases where the government must prove every element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt, CPO cases have a much lower burden. The burden of proof for a petitioner in a CPO case here is “good cause,” which the District of Columbia Court of Appeals has interpreted to mean a “preponderance of the evidence.” That is the same standard for most civil cases, like car accidents or personal injury lawsuits. A preponderance of the evidence means that the petitioner must put on slightly more probative evidence than the respondent. Think of a scale where each side puts evidence on one side. The petitioner’s side must slightly weigh more than the respondent’s side and tip the scales slightly in the petitioner’s favor to meet the burden of proof.
What can happen if the Court orders a CPO in the case?
In DC Superior Court, judges have the power to order the respondent to stay away from the petitioner, pay restitution, potentially pay attorney’s fees, or order other special conditions like make the respondent complete mental health or substance abuse treatment. The Court may order any combination of two potential stay away orders. One stay away order typically referred to as a “stay away – no contact order” requires the respondent to have no contact or communication with the respondent. Another type of order is commonly referred to as a “No HATS” order, which requires the petitioner to not harass, assault, threaten, or stalk the petitioner. Under that order, a respondent may communicate and contact the petitioner so long as those contacts or communications do not constitute harassment, assault, threats, or stalking.
What happens if you violate a CPO or TPO?
If you violate a CPO or TPO, the petitioner may file a motion with the court alleging contempt of court. This is where things can get very tricky. Where the case originally was civil, an allegation and prosecution for contempt of court converts the case into a criminal matter. Each violation of the CPO or TPO can carry a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000.00 fine. However, for the allegation to move forward, either the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia or the Office of Attorney General for the District of Columbia must agree to prosecute the case. That means the petitioner cannot themselves prosecute the respondent.
Should I hire a lawyer for a CPO case?
Absolutely. As previously stated, a stay-away order can restrict the respondent’s freedom of movement, cause them to pay money to the petitioner, or require them to complete treatment classes. Any violation of the CPO can also be criminally prosecuted. Accordingly, whether you are filing for a CPO or responding to one, it’s always critically important to have a competent and experienced Washington DC civil protection order lawyer that can help you navigate the system. At Scrofano Law PC, we have experienced both prosecuting and defending CPO cases. Contact us today.