A domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) is a court order that helps protect persons from abuse or threats of abuse from an individual they have a close relationship with. If a DVRO has been issued against you, it means you’re being prohibited from carrying out particular actions towards your loved ones, including contacting or approaching them. You are expected to obey what the DVRO says you should or shouldn’t do. Failure to which you land into trouble with the authorities. Several things could happen to you if you disobey the DVRO.
What Happens Should You Violate Your Domestic Violence Restraining Order?
You might feel you acted within your legal rights, but what if you weren’t? What consequences will you face for violating a domestic violence restraining order (DVRO)? If you deliberately violate any court order, you could be charged under PC 166. A DVRO is an example of a court order. Violating it is considered contempt of court, and therefore you could be charged under PC 166 law that prohibits being in contempt of court.
You could also be charged under PC 273.6, the California law that criminalizes the violation of a restraining order, especially if your violation caused injuries. The violation could lead to criminal charges and a conviction that will reflect on your criminal record.
You violate a DVRO when you do something that the order says you cannot do. For example, if the order says you shouldn’t contact or go near the victim, but you do, you are considered to have violated it.
If Charged Under PC 166
If you violate a DVRO, you may face misdemeanor charges under PC 166 for contempt of court. A conviction under this law will result in a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of one thousand dollars. The judge may order that you do community service instead of paying the fine.
However, we have various situations that could lead to more severe consequences. A few of these situations include violating the DVRO when you have a past stalking conviction or possess/own a gun in violation of the DVRO. In these cases, you’ll still face misdemeanor charges, but upon a conviction, you will be subject to a maximum jail sentence of one year and up to one thousand dollars in fines.
If it’s your second, third, or subsequent time violating a DVRO, you will be subject to wobbler charges under this law. A wobbler is a crime that the prosecutor can charge as a felony or misdemeanor based on the facts surrounding your violation. If your prior violation was within seven years and involved a violent act or credible threats of violence, you will face felony charges. If found guilty of a misdemeanor, you’ll be subject to a maximum jail sentence of one year and one thousand dollars in fines. And if convicted of a felony, you will face sixteen months, two or three years in prison.
However, before you are found guilty and convicted under this law, the prosecution must prove various elements. These include:
- A judge issued a court order against you (in this case, a DVRO).
- You were aware of the order’s existence.
- You had the present capability to adhere to the terms of the order.
- You willfully failed to do so.
Willfully doing something means you are doing it purposely or willingly. And as it concerns knowledge of the existence of the DVRO, the prosecution has to prove that you were aware of the legal nature of the DVRO and had the chance to read it.
You Can Fight and Win These Charges
Being held in contempt of court after violating a DVRO doesn’t mean you will automatically go to jail or pay the fine. The burden of proving beyond any reasonable doubt that you indeed violated the law lies with the D.A. If you have an experienced domestic violence defense lawyer by your side, they may be able to raise several legal defenses to challenge the accusations against you. Some of the defenses your lawyer can argue are:
- You did not willfully violate the court order— remember, we mentioned that for you to be convicted under this law, you must have willfully violated the DVRO. This means it’s a legal defense for your lawyer to argue that you didn’t disobey the terms of the DVRO on purpose. For example, if the DVRO forbids you from going anywhere near the victim and you accidentally bumped into them, you aren’t guilty of a DVRO violation.
- False accusations— it is not uncommon for a person to be falsely accused of violating a DVRO. This is particularly the case in disobeying a DVRO when a relationship has gone wrong and one of the parties wants to take revenge on the other. Thus, if your lawyer can prove that the victim unfairly blamed you, you cannot be convicted of a DVRO violation. It could be that the victim tricked you into meeting them when the order clearly stated you shouldn’t go near them, and they did that just to land you into trouble with the police. Or, it could be that your ex wanted you to reconcile, and since you said no and they saw you with a new boyfriend/girlfriend, they falsely accused you out of jealousy.
If Charged Under PC 273.6
Violation of a DVRO is also primarily a misdemeanor under 273.6 PC. If you are caught violating the order, charged, and convicted, you will be subject to a county jail sentence of up to a year and a fine that does not exceed one thousand dollars. Note, however, that your violation could be considered a wobbler if it’s your second or subsequent offense and the violation involved a violent act. If convicted of a felony violation, you will be subject to a maximum of three years in prison and up to ten thousand dollars in fines.
But just like under PC 166, the prosecutor has to prove various elements for you to be convicted. These elements include:
- A judge issued a domestic violence restraining order against you.
- You knew that the judge had granted the DVRO against you.
- You had the present capability to obey the terms of the DVRO.
- You willfully violated those terms.
As it pertains to knowledge, the explanation is the same as we provided above— that you must have been aware the DVRO existed to be convicted, including the fact that you had the chance to read it even if you did not do so. And you willfully commit an act when you do it on purpose or willingly, just like under PC 166.
Also, keep in mind that if you commit another criminal offense while violating the terms of a DVRO, you can be convicted under both 273.6 PC and the law governing the other offense.
You Can Also Defend Yourself
If accused of violating the terms of violating a DVRO in violation of PC 273.6, you can still defend yourself and prove your innocence. A lawyer can help you in doing so. Some of the legal defenses your lawyer can assert include:
- It was not a lawful order.
- You didn’t know the order existed.
- Your violation was not willful.
Remember that you’re only guilty per this law if you violated a legally issued DVRO. If the order wasn’t court-issued, it might not be legal. Therefore, violating its terms may not subject you to criminal liability. Alternatively, the judge may have issued the DVRO, but there weren’t any legal grounds for them to do so. This means then that you don’t have to follow the order. And if you’re charged, your lawyer can argue that the DVRO wasn’t legal, which may lead to a charge dismissal.
Also, recall that you must have known the DVRO existed in the first place to be convicted under 273.6 PC. This means if you can prove that you were not aware of the DVRO, you won’t be convicted. The law dictates that you be served with formal notice that the victim has filed for DVRO. If you weren’t given the notice, you would be within your legal rights to argue that you didn’t know there was a DVRO against you.
Lastly, you must intentionally violate a DVRO to be considered to have broken PC 273.6 laws. Therefore, you and your lawyer can argue that while you might have broken the terms of the DVRO, you did not do so on purpose. It could be, you meant to call someone but accidentally dialed the victim’s number, therefore unintentionally violating the condition that says you shouldn’t contact the victim.
The Victim May Also Take Civil Action
If you violate a DVRO, the victim may file for civil contempt. You are in civil contempt if you do anything that the domestic violence restraining order orders you not to do. If you’re found to be in civil contempt, you could be required to pay a fine of up to one thousand dollars or be incarcerated for a maximum of five days. And if you violate the DVRO more than once, the jail term can increase to a maximum of ten days. Or, the court could order probation or a conditional sentence for a maximum of one year for the first finding of contempt, a maximum of two years for the second finding of contempt, and a maximum of three years for a third/subsequent contempt.
If you don’t comply with other terms of the DVRO, for instance, the child or spousal support order, the victim has the right to reach out to the family law facilitator, an attorney, or the family support office of the D.A to take the necessary action.
Note that if you violated a TRO (temporary restraining order), you will not only face criminal charges or civil action, but the violation almost guarantees that the judge will grant a permanent restraining order (PRO).
The good news is that a conviction under either PC 166 or PC 273.6 won’t affect your immigration status. There are cases where a criminal conviction leads to an immigrant defendant being labeled as inadmissible or deported. An example is if you’re an immigrant and are found guilty of an aggravated felony. But PC 273.6 and PC 166 convictions are not generally these kinds of crimes.
Expungement of Your Conviction
Another good thing is that you can have your conviction record expunged if convicted under either PC 166 or PC 273.6. The court will grant your request to expunge your conviction record if you complete every probation condition or successfully serve your jail sentence, whichever is applicable. Keep in mind that a conviction record expungement releases you from the many hardships that come with a conviction.
Apart from facing criminal charges under PC 273.6 and PC. 166, you could also be charged with other crimes if you violate a DVRO. These are the crimes related to a DVRO violation. That is, they could be committed in violation of a DVRO. They include:
- PC 59 – vandalism
- PC 368 – elder abuse
- PC 422 – criminal threats
- PC 646.9 – stalking
- Domestic violence
The authorities take threats of assault or violence from a restrained individual very seriously since it shows an immediate danger to the protected individual that initially sought help. If you’re considered a credible threat to the victim or violate the DVRO after it has been issued, you should seek legal assistance from a competent law firm to defend your case and protect your rights.
At the Domestic Violence Attorney Law Firm, we’ll answer any questions you have, evaluate your case, and develop a solid defense strategy to help you. Call us at 619-393-8588 for a free consultation to learn more about how we’ll help you. We serve clients facing domestic violence-related charges in San Diego, CA, including those accused of violating a permanent or temporary domestic violence restraining order.