The National Trial Lawyers

Violation of Abuse Prevention (Restraining) Orders

A conviction for violating a restraining order has serious consequences, including the possibility of a jail sentence.

Elements of a Violation of an Abuse Prevention (Restraining) Order

In order to convict a defendant of violating a restraining order, the Commonwealth must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:

  1. A court had issued a restraining order against the defendant that prohibited the defendant from contacting the alleged victim (or prohibited the defendant from some other activity, such as traveling to the alleged victim’s place of work);
  2. The order was in effect on the date of the alleged violation;
  3. The defendant knew about the terms of the restraining order; and
  4. The defendant violated the order.
Common Defenses and Defense Strategies

Violation of restraining order cases can be defended in a variety of ways.

  • Accident - If the defendant accidentally has contact with the alleged victim, he or she cannot be convicted of violating a restraining order. This scenario happens most frequently when a defendant runs into the alleged victim in a public place and immediately leaves upon seeing the alleged victim.
  • Alleged Victim’s Criminal Record - If the alleged victim has a criminal record or a history of violence, Attorney Spring will attempt to present this information to the jury. Criminal convictions are generally admissible within a certain time frame (convictions for misdemeanors within the last five years are admissible; convictions for felonies within the last 10 years are admissible). History of violence evidence (also called “prior bad act” evidence) is generally admissible to impeach the alleged victim. Attorney Spring has extensive experience litigating these types of issues.
  • Bias - In most restraining order violation cases that go to trial, there is bad blood between the defendant and the alleged victim. The alleged victim ordinarily wants to see the defendant convicted and punished. The alleged victim’s desire for revenge will be fully exposed on cross-examination.
  • Notice – The Commonwealth is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant knew about the existence of the restraining order. Usually when a victim obtains a restraining order, she does so at an emergency court hearing that the defendant does not know about and does not attend. Therefore, often times, the defendant will not know about the restraining order until some later date. If the defendant did not have notice of the restraining order, he or she cannot be convicted.

Restraining order violation cases are emotionally charged because by definition, there was some sort of close relationship between the parties at some point in the past. Most restraining orders exist between people who were previously involved in a romantic relationship. In order to obtain a restraining order, the alleged victim has to assert that there is some reason why she is afraid of the defendant. The allegations made against the defendant are typically ugly, and the alleged victims are ordinarily very invested in the case.

Attorney Spring prosecuted restraining order violation cases when he served as an assistant district attorney early in his career, and he has defended clients charged with violating restraining orders since founding Spring & Spring. He has the knowledge and experience to aggressively defend you if you have been charged with violating a restraining order.

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