In the District of Columbia, a Civil Protection Order (or “CPO”) is the term used to describe what is commonly known as a Restraining Order. Often time, a CPO can protect a victim of domestic violence where police may not have enough evidence to file formal criminal charges. In addition, even for cases where criminal domestic violence charges have been filed, the complainant may seek the added protection of a CPO. A CPO is basically a court order that an individual or “respondent” stay away from the victim or “petitioner.”
What is the first step to filing for a CPO?
The first step to filing a CPO in DC is usually to request a Temporary Protective Order (or “TPO”). To file for a TPO, an individual must go to DC Superior Court either with or without a CPO lawyer and fill out paperwork alleging that they are in immediate danger. The paperwork requires an affidavit or sworn statement. After submitting the application for TPO, the petitioner will usually see a judge the same day in what is a called an ex parte proceeding. Ex parte just means that the hearing is outside the presence of the other party. These proceedings are summary and the judge makes a decision assuming the complainant is telling the truth. If the complainant can demonstrate that they are in danger, the judge will usually grant the TPO.
What is a TPO?
A TPO is like a CPO except it only stays valid for two weeks under the law. The reason is because a TPO is meant to be temporary in danger. Because as previously mentioned the initial hearing is ex parte or without the other side having an opportunity to defend themselves, the law only allows a temporary order to go into effect. The purpose is to provide the complainant protection while they try to serve the respondent with the Complaint which contains the allegations and a summons to come to court for a hearing on the CPO. The TPO has the same effect as a CPO once the respondent has notice of the claims. Notice occurs once the respondent is served with the Complaint.
How to serve the respondent in a CPO?
To initiate a CPO case, the Court rules require personal service of the respondent. That means someone has to physically hand the respondent the Complaint and Summons. However, the petitioner cannot serve the respondent personally. That means the petitioner must hire a private process server or get a friend or other adult over the age of 18 that is unrelated to the case. The Court also will instruct the Metropolitan Police Department to effect service in some circumstances.
What happens at the CPO hearing?
Once the respondent is served, they have notice of the TPO and that the Court has commanded them to appear at the CPO hearing. The CPO hearing must be held within 2 weeks of the TPO being issued. The CPO hearing usually starts at 9:30 am and the court begins by calling cases where parties have not shown up. Cases where the complainant fails to appear usually get dismissed for want of prosecution. Where both parties appear, the case will be called and the judge will refer the individuals to speak with an attorney mediator who works for Superior Court. In many instances, one or both parties may seek a continuance to prepare for an evidentiary hearing on the CPO. Often a respondent will hire an attorney who will request time to prepare given the quick turnaround from the respondent receiving the summons and the CPO hearing within 2 weeks. If the parties decide to negotiate, its possible to resolve the case by what’s called a Consent without Admissions agreement. In that agreement, the respondent agrees to stay away from the complainant but does not admit to the underlying factual allegations. If the parties do not reach an agreement or request to continue the case, an evidentiary hearing will be held before a judge who will decide whether to grant the request.
What happens if the respondent violates the CPO?
Once a CPO is in effect, it has the full force of law. Anyone who knowingly violates a CPO can be charged with contempt of court, which is a criminal offense. If the Court orders the respondent to stay away from the petitioner and have no contact, even something as minor as a text message or phone call can land the person in jail for violating the court order.