A Civil Protective Order (CPO) is a tool used by someone who believes that a family member or romantic partner has committed or threatened to commit acts of violence against them.
There are two parties to CPO litigation: (1) the petitioner, who files the CPO petition; and (2) the respondent, whom the CPO petition is against. In order to prevail in a CPO matter, the petitioner must prove that there is good cause to believe that the respondent has committed or threatened to commit criminal offense against petitioner or an animal in the petitioner’s household. (D.C. § 16-1005(c)).
If the petitioner is able to meet this burden, the respondent will be ordered not to do certain things in the future that he or she would otherwise be legally able to do, such as see or contact the petitioner.
A CPO is separate from a criminal prosecution and does not depend on the charging decisions of any of the governmental prosecuting agencies, such as the Attorney General’s Office or the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Therefore, even if these prosecutorial agencies decide not to press charges on any alleged criminal conduct, a CPO may still be available (See D.C. Code § 16-1002).
How Does Civil Protective Order Litigation Begin?
The Civil Protection Order proceedings begin when the petitioner files a petition with the Domestic Violence Division at D.C. Superior Court. A proper petition must include four different assertions in accordance with D.C. Code § 16-1003, as listed below:
1. The CPO petition must state the relationship between the petitioner and the respondent. To qualify to petition for a CPO, the relationship between the parties must be by at least one of the following:
- Blood relatives
- Legal custody (example: adoptive or foster parents/child)
- Domestic relationship
- Have a minor child in common
- Now or previously having shared the same residence (roommates)
- Romantic relationship (including dating relationship and/or sexual relationship)
- Share a common intimate partner
- Respondent is stalking the petitioner
- Respondent is sexually assaulting or abusing the petitioner
2. The incidents or allegations that underline the CPO must have occurred in the District of Columbia or the petitioner must reside, live, work, or attend school in the District of Columbia.
3. The petitioner must state the exact dates and allegations of the respondent’s criminal offenses committed against the petitioner.
For example, if the petitioner is alleging that the respondent sent a text message that contained a criminal threat, the petition must include the date and time of the threat and the substance of the text message.
4. The petitioner must state the exact restrictions that they are requesting.
What Happens After the Petition is Filed?
After the CPO petition is filed, the Domestic Violence Unit of the D.C. Superior Court will set the matter for a hearing to determine whether a Temporary Protection Order (or TPO) is necessary (D.C. Code § 16-1004). A TPO hearing usually occurs without the respondent being present or receiving notice of the hearing.
At a temporary protection hearing, a judge determines whether the safety or welfare of the petitioner or a household member of the petitioner is “immediately endangered” by the respondent (D.C. Code § 16-1004(b)(1)).
If the judge finds in favor of the petitioner, the judge may issue a TPO that includes restrictions on the respondent. An initial TPO cannot extend past fourteen days without the parties’ consent. D.C. Code § 16-1004(b)(2).
After a temporary protection order is issued, a civil protection hearing is scheduled. Both parties must be properly served with the notice of the CPO hearing.
Can Civil Protective Order Litigation Terminate Without a Court Hearing?
Yes. CPO litigation can end without a court hearing if the parties agree to an out-of-court settlement. The settlement can be with admission (where the respondent acknowledges engaging in criminal acts) or without admission.
The settlement will set out whatever terms are agreed upon by the parties. A settlement is typically preferred for those who do not wish to undergo a court hearing to determine the validity of the CPO allegations.
What Happens at a CPO Hearing?
If the parties are unable to reach a resolution prior to the court date, a civil protection order hearing will take place in front of a Judge at D.C. Superior Court. At the hearing, both parties will present evidence that either supports the allegations or defends against them.
The evidence can include testimony from the parties, testimony from witnesses, documentary evidence, or any other admissible evidence needed to either support or defend the allegations.
If the respondent testifies at the CPO hearing, his or her testimony will not be able to be used against them in a criminal trial or delinquency proceeding except in a prosecution for perjury or false statement (D.C. Code 16-1002).
Pursuant to D.C. Code § 16-1005(c), if the judge finds that there is good cause to believe that the respondent has committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense, the judge can issue a CPO order with any or all of the following conditions:
- Direct the respondent not to commit or threaten to commit a criminal offense against the petitioner.
- Require the respondent to stay away from the petitioner (usually 100 yards).
- Require the respondent to stay away from a protected location, such as the petitioner’s residence.
- Require the respondent to have no contact with the petitioner, which means they cannot contact the petitioner through any means (telephonic or electronic) or through a third person, even if the petitioner contacts them.
- Require the respondent to participate in psychiatric treatment, medical treatment, or any other appropriate counseling programs.
- Require the respondent to give the petitioner personal property owned by the petitioner or owned by both the respondent and the petitioner.
- Require the respondent to pay costs or attorney’s fees to the petitioner.
- Require the respondent to relinquish possession of any firearms.
- Award temporary child custody or visitation restrictions for a minor child or animal.
- Order law enforcement agencies to enforce the orders.
The protective order issued at the hearing shall be in effect for up to one year. (D.C. Code § 16-1005(d)). Either party has the right to appeal any decisions or orders issued by the Court. (D.C. Code § 16-1005(e)).
What Happens if Someone Violates a CPO Agreement or Order?
If the respondent violates the terms of the CPO agreement or CPO Order, 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)).
Do I Need a Lawyer for a CPO?
A CPO can have adverse consequences on your future and day-to-day life. Contempt proceedings can be held for any violation of a CPO order if granted. It is in your best interest to retain counsel so that you can ensure that your rights are protected and that you obtain the best possible result.