Violating a Civil Protection Order (CPO) in D.C.

It is a criminal offense in D.C. to violate a Civil Protection Order (CPO).  The maximum penalty for a conviction for this offense is 180 days in jail and/or a fine of up to 180 days.  D.C. Code § 16-1005(g).  A person who violates a temporary or final order issued either in D.C. or another jurisdiction or who fails to appear at a hearing in connection with a stay-away order can also be charged with criminal contempt.  Criminal contempt has the same maximum penalty as violating a CPO.  D.C. Code § 16-1005(f).

What is a Civil Protection Order?

Also known as a restraining order, a CPO is a court order directing the “respondent” (i.e., the subject of the CPO) to refrain from certain conduct.  The prohibited conduct can include committing or threatening to commit criminal offenses against the “petitioner” (i.e., the person who requested the CPO) or other persons named in the order and to stay away from or to have no contact with the petitioner.  The CPO can also direct the respondent to undergo psychiatric or medical treatment or counseling programs; to vacate a dwelling; or to relinquish property owned jointly by the parties.  Finally, the CPO can award temporary custody of a minor child; provide for restricted visitation to protect the safety of the petitioner; award costs and attorneys fees; and require the respondent to relinquish possession of any firearms.  D.C. Code § 16-1005(c). 

The respondent has the right to a hearing to contest the issuance of a CPO.  The CPO can only be issued if the court finds that there is “good cause” to believe that the respondent has committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense against the petitioner.  D.C. Code § 16-1005(c).   A CPO is valid for up to a year and can be renewed. D.C. Code § 16-1005(d). 

What is a Temporary Protection Order?

A CPO is often preceded by a Tempory Protection Order (TPO).   With terms that can be identical to a CPO, a TPO is issued at the time of the initial petition if the court believes that the petitioner needs protection in advance of the CPO hearing.   Because the TPO is granted ex parte(i.e., without the respondent present to defend him- or herself), the order is only valid for 14 days.  The court will therefore try to schedule the CPO hearing within those days.  The order can be extended with the agreement of both parties.  D.C. Code § 16-1004(b).  A person who violates a TPO can be charged with Criminal Contempt. 

What will happen at my initial court appearance? 

A criminal case in the District typically involves at least three court hearings:  arraignment, initial status hearing, and trial.   The first hearing is the arraignment.  The purpose of the arraignment is for the defendant to hear the charges and to enter a plea.  The court will also advise the defendant of the right to counsel, and the government will turn over initial “discovery,” including paperwork related to the charges. 

An initial status hearing is usually scheduled three or four weeks from the arraignment.  This period of time gives the defendant’s lawyer an opportunity to discuss the case with the assigned prosecutor from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  The parties will then decide either to schedule a trial date or to enter into some type of non-trial disposition at the third court date. 

Initial arraignments for domestic violence cases are held at 2:00 pm in Room 119 on Monday through Friday. On Saturday they are held at 1:00 pm in Room C10.    

What does the Government have to prove in order to secure a conviction for violating a CPO?

In order to secure a conviction for violating a CPO, the prosecution must prove (1) that a CPO was issued, (2) that the defendant was aware of the CPO, and (3) that the defendant knowingly violated its term.   See Davis v. United States, 834 A.2d 861, 866 (D.C. 2003).  A single phone call or text in contravention of a no-contact order could constitute a violation. 

Will I go to jail?

Violating a CPO is a misdemeanor criminal offense punishable by up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of no more than $1,000.  The court will look at a number of factors if the defendant is found guilty in deciding on an appropriate sentence.  The court will look, for example, at the defendant’s prior criminal history and the specific facts of the case. 

First time offenders may be offered a pretrial diversion program called a Deferred Sentencing Agreement (DSA).  According to this voluntary agreement between the government and the defendant, the defendant agrees to waive his/her right to a trial and to plead guilty to the offense.  However, instead of proceeding directly to sentencing, the government provides the defendant with an agreed upon period of time (typically six months to a year) to complete an agreed upon set of conditions.  In domestic violence cases, these conditions typically include participation in the Domestic Violence Intervention Program (DVIP) or anger management.  If the defendant completes these conditions successfully, the court allows him/her to withdraw the guilty plea, and the government dismisses the charges “with prejudice” (meaning that the government cannot bring the charges back). 

Will I need a lawyer?

Although you have the right to defend yourself, this is not advisable given the enormous stakes involved and the complexity of a criminal case.  If you cannot afford your own lawyer, the court will appoint one to represent you.