Updated on July 7th, 2023 at 06:45 pm
You were just served with a Civil Protection Order (CPO), but what does that mean exactly? An order of protection is an order employed by a person who feels that a family member or significant other has committed or made threats to commit a crime against them.
A protection order is not a criminal prosecution, nor does it rely on a decision made by governmental prosecuting agencies like the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia or the Attorney General’s Office. If prosecutorial agencies opt to not press charges on alleged criminal behavior, a CPO may still be obtainable (D.C. Code § 16-1002).
In CPO litigation, there are two sides: the petitioner (1), who files the petition for a civil protection order; and the respondent (2), the person whom the protection order petition is against. To be granted a CPO, the petitioner needs to provide reasonable cause to support their belief that the respondent has perpetrated or made threats to commit a crime against the petitioner or a petitioner’s animal (D.C. § 16-1005(c)).
Restraining order vs. Protective order
A restraining order is a more broadly applicable protection order – a court order that prohibits a specific person from coming near your home, work, or other location listed in the order.
While a CPO and a civil restraining order are similar in nature, they are not the same. A civil protection order is only applied to cases with intrafamilial relationships such as romantic partners, domestic partners, intimate partners (e.g., sexual relationships), immediate family, or roommates. Protection orders commonly involve sexual assault or domestic violence.
A civil restraining order can apply to anyone. It is a request to coerce a person to do (or not do) something. A restraining order does not essentially require an individual to stay away from the petitioner unless it is requested or considered necessary.
Types of protection orders
The three types are:
Civil Protection Order – Granted by a DC Superior Court Judge at a CPO hearing. It is in effect for up to two years. If the CPO is violated, the respondent can be charged with misdemeanor contempt, which carries a sentence of 180 days and/or $1,000 fine ((D.C. Code § 16-1005(f-g))
Temporary Protection Order – Granted after the CPO petition is filed at the request of the petitioner if they believe the respondent has them in immediate danger before the CPO trial takes place. TPO lasts 14 days and typically restricts contact with the respondent.
Emergency Temporary Protection Order – Granted for emergencies when the court is closed. An ETPO lasts for 5 days and must be issued by a police officer and an advocate from Survivors and Advocates for Empowerment (SAFE).
How does a protection order protect you?
Once the CPO is in place, the court orders the respondent not to harass, stalk, or threaten the petitioner for up to two years. The petitioner may also experience peace of mind regarding their safety once a CPO is in effect.
If the order is violated, the petitioner or prosecution can directly notify the court. If the respondent violated the order, based on the court findings, they can be held in contempt as a misdemeanor, possessing up to 180 days of jail time, and/or a $1,000 fine
How do you get an order of protection dismissed?
If you think a CPO was ordered inappropriately or it is not necessary anymore, you can file a motion requesting that the court “dissolve” (cancel or terminate) the order. The court decides if scheduling a hearing is appropriate after the motion is filed. Otherwise, the petitioner is the only person who can choose to dismiss a CPO before it expires.
However, if the respondent appears in court but the petitioner does not, the order is automatically dismissed. If both the respondent and petitioner appear in court, after hearing the facts of the case, the Judge may also decide not to grant the civil protection order.
What happens if the respondent violates DC Civil Protection Orders?
You can alert law enforcement agencies, and the government may file one of two charges: a contempt of court charge or a CPO violation charge. Alternatively, the protected person may file a motion for contempt. In this case, a judge will hold a hearing to decide whether the offending person has violated the order.
Violating any part of a civil protection order is a criminal offense. However, only prosecutors can initiate criminal proceedings against a respondent for contempt of court or an order of protection violation. The penalty for violating the terms of a CPO is a misdemeanor criminal contempt charge which carries 180 days in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
Remember, it is not possible for the petitioner to violate a CPO, only the respondent.
What is the difference between civil and criminal contempt?
Civil Contempt is used to protect the rights of a party (e.g., the petitioner) by forcing compliance from the respondent with a court order. Criminal Contempt is used to uphold the respect due the Court and to punish violations of its orders.
Essentially, civil contempt is meant to pressure the respondent to obey a court order, and criminal contempt punishes the respondent for disobeying the court order.
How do I oppose an application for protection against me?
If a petitioner is trying to file for or has already been granted protection against you, you have two options. First, you can file an opposition to the application or a motion asking the court to dissolve or modify the order. Or, if the court grants the petitioner an extended protection order, you can appeal.
A protection order can be valid for up to two years; however, if requested and deemed necessary it can be extended by the presiding judge. In general, if a good cause is found, a protection order can be vacated, extended, or modified after its inception.
How long does an order of protection last in DC?
A civil protection order can last up to two years. It is a court order designed to provide you with long-term protection from an abuser.
A temporary protection order (TPO) is granted if there is an immediate threat to the petitioner and is given for up to 14 days–the time lapsed before a court can hear on the issue. An emergency temporary protection order (ETPO) is for emergency situations outside of court hours and is valid for 5 days.
Can I extend a protective order?
If, after two years, the respondent is still considered a threat, the petitioner can file a motion to extend their protective order. The motion must be filed with the Domestic Violence Intake Center before the original CPO expires.
The petitioner can explain why they still feel unsafe and/or reference recent incidents where the CPO was violated. To be granted, the presiding judge must deem the extension necessary. If the protection order expires, the petitioner can file for a new one if more incidents occur.
Need legal representation with a protective order?
You are not required to have an attorney to file a protective order. However, hiring legal assistance can make certain your rights and interests are represented in the courtroom. An attorney can certify that the terms of the order are curated exactly to the needs of the petitioner. Additionally, legal counsel can help you navigate the situation of a violated order.
As a respondent, if you have any ongoing separate criminal charges, an attorney can make sure that you understand the terms of the order to prevent additional criminal charges or prevent cause for the prosecution to counter a favorable outcome in those separate cases.
Additionally, legal counsel can certify that the defense of a criminal charge is not negatively impacted by civil order rulings and other concerns, like custody of a minor child or other civil judgments, are not threatened.