If you are the restrained party in a mandatory criminal protection order, you may have been forced out of your house, restrained from contact with your wife and your children, restrained from certain places, and prohibited from drinking alcohol and possessing a weapon. Some of these restrictions will have major impacts on you, your family, and your ability to work, but they are also traps that could get you into far deeper trouble than you are already in. If there’s a way to modify or drop the restraining order, a Denver criminal lawyer can help you do it. Read below for some basics of restraining orders, followed by how and why to modify them.
If you are the protected party, your request to modify a protection order is given serious weight by a judge, who will also exercise independent judgment as to whether terms of protection order are necessary for your safety. If you wish to change a restraining order, you can retain your own attorney, contact the defendant’s attorney, talk to the district attorney’s office, or go to court. Ultimately, you will have to address the judge in the case to get any modification.
*Note that protection order, no contact order, and restraining order are different terms for essentially the same thing in Colorado. If someone says mandatory protection or restraining order, it means it is a criminal order.
Criminal versus civil restraining orders
There is a difference between a criminal and a civil restraining order. A civil restraining order can be issued to prevent stalking, or assaults or domestic abuse, and they can be issued with or without criminal charges ever being filed. They are often sought in divorce proceedings, by someone who feels threatened, or by a victim of a crime who wants longer protection than a criminal restraining order provides.
A criminal restraining order, often called a mandatory protection order, is issued by the court as part of a criminal case. MPO’s are common in domestic violence and child abuse cases, for example. Though an alleged victim or the district attorney can ask the court for one, the court usually issues one on its own when the case begins. A criminal protection order restrains the defendant and protects the alleged victim or victims, and sometimes witnesses.
Note that if you are subject to more than one restraining order and the terms conflict, you usually must comply with the terms of the most restrictive order, whether criminal or civil. Talk to an attorney.
Key features of a criminal protection order
Unlike a civil restraining order which can be permanent, a criminal protection order only lasts as long as the criminal case does. If a case is dismissed or the defendant is acquitted, the protection order goes away. If a defendant is convicted, the protection order lasts as long as the defendant’s sentence, including probation (and possibly parole).
Criminal protection orders vary somewhat, so you have to read the one that issued in your case. Generally, though, they prevent any contact between the defendant and the protected party. That includes in person contact, telephone or email contact, and contact through third parties—a defendant can NOT send the protected party messages through friends or family. In a domestic violence case, a defendant must vacate the home of the alleged victim, even if he owns or co-owns the home. In that situation, the law allows a “civil assist”, where the police will accompany a defendant to his home to get some belongings without violating the order. A criminal protection order may also prohibit a defendant from consuming alcohol or drugs, or possessing a firearm, or other terms provided by the court and district attorney. All criminal protection orders prohibit the defendant from harassing or intimidating the protected party.
How to drop the criminal protection order
As noted above, you really can not drop a criminal protection order before the case is concluded, but you may be able to modify it. In general, the judge will be more likely to modify the restraining order if the criminal allegations are less serious, if the defendant has less criminal history, if the victim requests the modification, and if the defendant has already taken responsibility by pleading guilty. The judge will be more concerned with the safety of the protected party than the convenience of you, the defendant, but the judge will listen to arguments of both the district attorney and the defense attorney. In fact, you should never attempt this yourself—you will have to explain your request to modify the order, and anything you say in court can be used against you in plea negotiations, trial and sentencing. Wait until you have hired a lawyer.
Key provisions regarding contact will be decided based on the court’s perception of the alleged victim’s need for safety. And the alleged victim’s wishes will always be more important than yours, in the eyes of the law. But even in volatile situations, a good lawyer may be able to obtain some contact between you and your family. A criminal defense lawyer can also help you address situations where a restraining order is interfering with a domestic court order or otherwise preventing you from parenting your children. A defense lawyer can also address situations where a firearm restriction, or a restriction from specific addresses, effectively prevents you from going to work. In these and other examples, a criminal defense attorney may be able to modify the protection order, even without a request by the alleged victim.
Do not violate the restraining order
It is extremely important to modify a protection order as early as possible, because even a minor violation of a restraining order has serious consequences. First of all, violations of a protection order are very easy for the DA to prove, carry a possible penalty of up to 18 months in jail, and any sentence must run consecutive to the sentence you receive on the underlying domestic violence case. A new charge like that gives the DA leverage, and may turn a situation where you could have won a trial into one where you must take a plea offer. Second of all, a protection order is typically a condition of your bond—if you violate your bond, you can be arrested, with your original bond forfeited and a much higher one imposed. An aggressive DA might charge you with a violation of bail bonds, which is a serious criminal charge that further increases his leverage against you. Third of all, a protection order violation will change the way the DA and judge assess your risk to the community, and could lead to a harsher sentence for you on your original charges. These and other consequences can follow from even a minor violation of a criminal protection order.
So don’t take any chances. Don’t violate the protection order, even if the victim tells you it is ok. Contact a Denver criminal lawyer for help with your criminal case, and for help in modifying the protection order so that you can live while your case is pending.
Call (303) 900-8480 to speak with Matthew Hand about your case. All initial consultations are free.