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Restraining Order Violations

UPDATED: June 19, 2018

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Violation of a restraining order, otherwise known as a protective order, is considered contempt of court. Breaking a restraining order can result in a variety of penalties depending on the severity of the violation, the specific terms of the order, and the state where the incident occurred.

Fines and Penalties

Violation of a restraining order can mean community service, fines, and/or jail time. The penalties depend greatly on the terms of the violation and the state enforcing the violation, but in most states, a violation of a restraining order is charged as a misdemeanor. However even as a misdemeanor, the penalties can still reach up to $5000 in fines, and up to a year in jail in some states. Finally, if there was an additional crime committed during the violation of the restraining order, the penalties can become even more severe.

For example, suppose an individual takes a restraining order out against his ex-girlfriend, which prohibits her from coming within 1000 feet of him. Now suppose the ex-girlfriend wants to retrieve personal belongings left at the ex-boyfriend's home. She climbs through the window to gain entry while he is sleeping to gather her items. Not only could she be charged with contempt of court for violating the restraining order, but she could get charged with breaking and entering, which in many states can be charged as a felony.  

In addition, repeated violations of a restraining order can, in some jurisdictions, lead to charges of aggravated stalking and other advanced crimes. Because the individual who is repeatedly violating the restraining order is showing the conduct or intent element that is present in many stalking statutes, violation of this sort can increase the penalties. This can lead to increased jail time and fines. Repeat restraining order violations in some states can result in top-level felony charges and up to three years in prison.

Temporary Restraining Order Violations

The penalties for violation of a restraining order generally apply whether the restraining order in place is temporary or permanent. The court draws no distinction between the two, since many times a temporary order is just a place holder for a more permanent one, which is usually issued on the date a court hearing is scheduled. In all cases, provided the order is official, any violation of a restraining order can and will lead to the consequences described above. The person who holds the restraining order often has no say in whether the penalties are actually applied, so that person cannot change her mind and refuse to press charges once the order has been violated. 

Defenses to Violation of a Restraining Order

The most common defense against the charge of violation of a restraining order is that the violation was not willful. Violation of a restraining order is not always intentional. An individual with a restraining order against them may accidentally go to the same place as the person they have been ordered to stay away from. Further, the person who issued the restraining order in the first place may later try to contact the individual they issued the restraining order against. However, even in these situations it is possible that the individual who the restraining order is against can still be found guilty of violating it. This is because it will generally be one person’s word against another’s.

Other defenses for violating a restraining order include knowledge and legality. The defense of knowledge means that the individual that had the restraining order placed against them had no notice of it, and therefore they did not realize they violated it. For example, the order may not have reached the individual yet, or the individual may not understand the contents of the order. The defense of legality is used when the restraining order was not issued for a lawful purpose. This usually means that the underlying basis of the restraining order was false or exaggerated. 

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