The news is full of celebrities filing restraining orders (or Civil Protective Orders) against their former partners: Denise Richards against Charlie Sheen, Halle Barry against Gabriel Aubry, Kelly Rutherford against Daniel Giersch, and Rihanna against Chris Brown, just to name a few.
Now it is possible that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitts’ name might be added to that list. On September 19, 2016, Angelina Jolie filed for a divorce from Brad Pitt. The couple has been in a romantic relationship for twelve years. The filing occurred days before allegations emerged that Brad Pitt had verbally and physically assaulted one of the couples’ six children.
The question is: could Angelina Jolie successfully obtain a CPO in DC Superior Court based on this allegation? The answer requires a three-point analysis: (1) Do Pitt and Jolie have the required relationship?; (2) Do the allegations constitute criminal behavior?; and (3) Does DC have jurisdiction?
What is the relationship between the Pitt and Jolie?
The first hurdle that Jolie must overcome is to show that she and Pitt are in the type of relationship covered by Civil Protective Orders. Such relationships include blood relatives, spouses, persons with a child in common, persons in a romantic relationship, or persons who share a common intimate partner. Therefore, the fact that Jolie and Pitt were both in an intimate relationship and married means that the parties qualify for an entrance into a Civil Protective Order.\
However, the allegations discussed below concern the couples’ minor son, Maddox, and not Jolie. That means that Jolie could file the petition on behalf of Maddox (under D.C. Code § 16-1003(a)(1)), but would probably not be able to file one on behalf of herself.
Do the allegations constitute criminal behavior?
The second hurdle is for Jolie to show that Pitt committed a criminal act that requires the implementation of a restraining order. The test is whether there is “good cause” to believe that Pitt has committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense (D.C. Code § 16-1005(c)).
The allegations in this case concern the couples’ fifteen-year-old son, Maddox. Sources claim that Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Maddox, and at least one other child of the couple were flying on their private plane from France to Los Angeles via Michigan. During the flight, Pitt became intoxicated and began arguing with Maddox. The argument turned physical when Pitt “made contact” with Maddox in the shoulder area. There are conflicting reports as to whether Maddox sustained an injury as a result of this contact.
This contact is only a sufficient basis for a Civil Protective Order if a Judge finds that the conduct was criminal.
The DC simple assault statute, D.C. Code § 22-404, makes it unlawful to use force or violence to injure or attempt to injure another or to commit a threatening act that would reasonability create in another person a fear of immediate injury. The definition of “injure” does not require actual injury, but instead is satisfied by a mere unwanted touching. Therefore, by even “making contact” with Maddox’s shoulder, Pitt could be found guilty of simple assault under this section.
However, Pitt does have a valid defense if he made the conduct for the purpose of “parental discipline.” Under the DC Code, a parent is permitted to use a reasonable amount of force in preventing or punishing a minor child’s misconduct. If Pitt was acting in a genuine effort to correct Maddox and did not act excessively under the circumstances, then he would not be guilty of committing a simple assault.
Because it is clear that Pitt and his son were engaged in an argument and there is insufficient proof at this time that Maddox sustained any injury or that Pitt acted excessively, it appears that Pitt was acting for the purpose of parental discipline.
Does DC have jurisdiction?
In order for the Civil Protective Order matter to be heard in DC Superior Court, there has to be some connection to the District. DC has jurisdiction if the allegation occurred in DC or if the petitioner resides, lives, or works in the District of Columbia.
In this case, the allegation occurred while the family was on a plane. This creates a special aircraft jurisdiction, which comes into play anytime an aircraft has a scheduled destination or last point of departure in the United States and the aircraft lands in the United States (CRM 1405). The offense is therefore in federal jurisdiction, and the investigation into the conduct is being handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Thus, without any connection to DC, the case could not be heard in DC Superior Court. If Jolie were to seek a protective order, it would likely be in California where the family resides.