A restraining order, also known as a protective order, is a court order that is intended to protect someone (the “protected person”) from being harassed, threatened, stalked, physically abused, or sexually abused by another person (the “restrained person”). 

In California restraining orders might include the following:

  • Personal Conduct Orders: Personal conduct orders are intended to stop the restrained person from committing specific acts against the protected person. The order may include more than one protected person, such as those in the same family or living in the same household. Some of the actions that might be ordered to stop include:
    • Making any contact with the protected person, including calling, emailing, or messaging.
    • Harassing
    • Stalking
    • Threatening
    • Sexually or physically assaulting
    • Destruction of property
    • Disturbing the peace, which is a broad term that can include things like showing up at the protected person’s home and causing a scene, or continued contact and harassment. 
  • Stay-Away Orders: Stay-away orders order the restrained person to keep a specified distance away from the protected person and/or various locations. Those locations include, but are not limited to:
    • The protected person’s home
    • The protected person’s workplace
    • School or child care attended by the protected person’s children
    • The protected person’s vehicle
  • Residence Exclusion Orders: Residence exclusion orders, also known as “kick-out” or “move-out” orders order the restrained person to move out of the residence where the protected person lives. They are permitted to remove their clothing and personal belongings only until the court hearing.

The four types of restraining orders are:

  1. Domestic Violence Restraining Order: A domestic violence restraining order is used when the restrained person is someone the protected person has a close relationship with and who has abused them. It might be a spouse or domestic partner, someone the protected person had a romantic relationship with, someone they had a child with, or is otherwise closely related (family member).
  2. Elder or Dependent Adult Abuse Restraining Order: A person who is 65 years old or more, or someone over 18 with mental or physical disabilities that keeps them from being able to take care of or protect themselves, can obtain a restraining order. The restraining order can be used to protect them from physical abuse, mental abuse, financial harm, neglect, abandonment, or poor treatment by a caregiver who is depriving them of basic needs or services.
  3. Civil Harassment Restraining Order: A civil harassment restraining order is used to protect a person who is being stalked, threatened, or abused by a person they do not have a close relationship with as is required to be considered domestic violence. The restrained person might be a relative, like a cousin, aunt, uncle, niece, or nephew. This type of restraining order may also be used against a roommate, neighbor, or acquaintance.
  4. Workplace Violence Restraining Order: Workplace violence restraining orders are intended to protect employees from harassment, violence, or credible threats of violence in the workplace. The employer must ask for the restraining order to protect their employee.

What is the Punishment for Misdemeanor Restraining Order Violation?

A restrained person can face charges for violating a restraining order. In California, violating a restraining order is considered a “wobbler” offense. That means that the crime can be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances. 

A misdemeanor restraining order violation is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Some defendants might get probation. They will have to attend frequent meetings with their probation officer and might also be required to do community service, pay restitution, or participate in counseling sessions.

Can I Be Convicted of Felony for Violating a Restraining Order in California?

Some restraining order violations are considered felony offenses. If you break a restraining order in California you can be charged with a felony and might face between 16 months and three years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000.

Whether a violation is a misdemeanor or felony will depend on the facts and circumstances of the violation and the criminal history of the defendant. If the victim was injured when the order was violated the punishment will likely be more harsh. A defendant with a criminal history will be more likely to face jail time for violating a restraining order.

It is against the law to possess a firearm if you have a restraining order in effect against you. Therefore, knowingly possessing a firearm can lead to criminal charges, even if the restrained person did not violate the order in any other way. 

A felony charge and conviction for violating a restraining order will lead to the restrained person losing their right to own a gun. In California, anyone convicted of a felony is not allowed to own or possess a gun.

Are There Tougher Penalties for Violating an Order a Second Time Within a Year of the First Violation?

A restrained person who repeatedly violates a restraining order will face harsher punishment than a first time offender. While the violation will not automatically be a felony, as the surrounding circumstances are still relevant, the punishment will likely be more severe the second time. A second violation that is within one year of the first will definitely lead to a harsher penalty and greater fine.

Is Supervised Probation a Sentencing Option?

Not every restraining order violation will result in jail time for the offender. In some cases the court may determine that supervised probation is an appropriate punishment. A defendant who receives supervised probation for a restraining order violation in California will be required to do some or all of the following:

  • Meet regularly with their probation officer
  • Perform community service
  • Pay restitution to the victim
  • Participate in counseling

Violating the terms of the probation (including another violation of the restraining order) will result in a criminal sentence that could include jail time.

What are Some Defenses to Violating a Restraining Order in California?

If you have been charged with violating a restraining order in California there are a few available defenses.

  • Lack of intent: A person must be aware that there is a restraining order against them for them to have the required intent to violate it. A lack of intent defense would be appropriate if the restrained person accidentally ran into or had a chance encounter with  the protected person in a public place or social function where both parties have a right to be present.
  • Lack of knowledge: A restrained person must know there is a restraining order against them in order to violate it. 
  • The restraining order is not lawful: A defendant might be able to argue that the restraining order was not legal or there was no legal basis for the judge to have issued the order in the first place. 

Should I Call a Lawyer to Help Me Fight My Restraining Order Violation Charge?

If you have been accused of violating a restraining order, you should contact a criminal lawyer. An experienced criminal lawyer in California will be able to review the facts of your case, advise you of your rights, and prepare any defenses that might be available. They can also represent you in court.