Washington DC Civil Protection Order Lawyer
A restraining order taken out in Washington, DC is referred to as a Civil Protection Order (or “CPO”). It essentially involves filing a mini-lawsuit against an individual whom you have an “intrafamily relationship” with. The law defines intrafamily relationship broadly, to include family members, anyone you have been romantically involved with, and even roommates.
The civil protection order petition must allege some type of assault, threat, stalking, or harassing behavior. The person who files the application for a civil protection order is referred to as the “petitioner”. The person whom the CPO is filed against is referred to as the “respondent.”
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For most CPO cases, the petitioner wants a stay away order. Typically, the judge can order two types of stay away or restraining orders. The first is a stay away no-contact order. That means the respondent cannot legally have any contact with the petitioner—no email, text, social media, etc. The second type of stay away order is called a “No HATS” order. That type of order prohibits harassing, assaulting, threatening, or stalking behavior. Petitioners often request other types of relief in their CPO petition, including restitution for damaged or destroyed property, a request the respondent obtain drug, alcohol, or mental health treatment, and/or move from the home if the parties are cohabitating.
In a CPO case, the petitioner has the burden of proof. Unlike in a criminal case, however, the burden of proof is not beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s a much lower burden of “good cause” or what the DC Court of Appeals has essentially interpreted as, “preponderance of the evidence.” That means the petitioner’s evidence only needs to slightly outweigh the respondent’s evidence. Think 50% plus the weight of a feather.
CPO cases are not criminal cases and having a CPO issued against you does not mean you are going to jail. However, once a CPO is in effect, any violation of the order can and will likely be prosecuted for contempt of court. While it’s not a conviction for a crime if a CPO is taken out against you, contempt of court is a crime.
In most cases, a petitioner first seeks a Temporary Protection Order (or “TPO”). The process of obtaining a TPO is a summary proceeding. That means its quick and involves little process. To get a TPO, a petitioner must file an application with the court. Usually, the judge will hear the petition almost immediately. The petitioner must, under oath, testify to circumstances the judge thinks rises to an emergency. The respondent does not have a right to present evidence and usually does not have notice of the TPO hearing.
If the judge enters the TPO, the petitioner must have the respondent served with the TPO, which usually remains in effect for fourteen days. That time period is supposed to give the respondent notice that they cannot contact the respondent by court order and let them know they have to come to court for the CPO hearing.
The CPO hearing is more like a trial where both sides present evidence. And granting the CPO basically just extends the TPO for a year. Because it’s only a short time period between the entry of a TPO and the CPO hearing (less than two weeks by the time the respondent gets notice), a DC CPO lawyer will usually enter an appearance in the case and request a continuance.
A continuance for the CPO hearing usually is necessary to have enough time to gather evidence and mount an effective defense against the allegation. Also, because these cases are civil in nature, the parties can engage in negotiations like any other civil case. In fact, on the day of the CPO hearing, the Court usually orders the parties to at least try to work with an attorney negotiator to see if they can resolve the case short of having an evidentiary or trial-type hearing.
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One common way people resolve these cases without a trial is by entering into what is called a “Consent without Admissions” agreement. That resolution usually involves the respondent agreeing to go ahead and stay away from the petitioner without admitting to the underlying facts supporting the allegation in the CPO petition.
These can be effective tools to avoid a time-consuming hearing and a potentially negative ruling from the judge. However, consent without admission agreements can leave the respondent open to later allegations of contempt. In other words, once the court order is in place, if the petitioner does not act in good faith, they could always later allege that the respondent violated the order. In that case, the respondent could end up defending a criminal contempt charge that carries a maximum penalty of 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000.00 fine.
A better outcome for a respondent usually involves a CPO lawyer convincing the other side to withdraw the petition. If the petitioner has an attorney, the two attorneys can negotiate and try to reach an out of court agreement to avoid the cost and expenses of litigating. Because the nature of these cases usually involves high emotions and hot tempers, this option is not always available.
Even after the CPO hearing, the case might not end. Petitioners always have the option to ask the court to renew the CPO before the one year expires. Again, these hearings also have a relatively low standard and require the petitioner to “show good cause” as to why it can be extended. It can be a damned if you do, damned if you don’t type situation. The Court could extend the order if a violation was alleged but also could extend the order without an alleged violation under the rationale that the order is working.
Trial Attorney Jay P. Mykytiuk defends Civil Protection Order (CPO) respondents in the District of Columbia. While a CPO is a civil remedy, much like a restraining order, its issuance can have criminal consequences, and impact one’s ability to obtain a security clearance necessary for employment. CPOs can be issued for up to one year and can be extended at the end of the CPO period. Another collateral consequence of having a CPO is that federal law prohibits you from legally possessing a firearm. In fact, DC law requires you to surrender any firearm to the local police station.