Enforcing Protection Orders
In cases of violence between intimate partners, a victim often experiences a variety of concerns which are unique as compared to a victim of stranger on stranger violence. These cases carry additional concerns about an abuser reoffending against the victim. Even after a case is concluded, it is common for victims of intimate partner violence to live in constant fear of retaliation or reoffending by their abuser.
Fortunately a victim may gain some measure of security in the form of a Civil Protection Order. Such orders are handled separate from the criminal case and allow a Judge to order an abuser to have no contact with a victim for up to five years. Such orders can be made specific to prevent an abuser from contacting victims directly, indirectly or through third parties. They can prevent offenders from common tactics of control and manipulation such as harming pets, having contact with children, or discontinuing utilities of the victim’s home.
When a Civil Protection Order is granted it becomes a crime for the abuser to have any prohibited contact with the victim. A first offense is a misdemeanor of the first degree. Any subsequent offenses are a felony of the fifth degree. These orders may be situation specific to preclude abusers from coming within a certain distance from a location such as the victim’s home or workplace. They may allow or limit contact with any children of the parties based on the information given to the Judge who issues the order. Such orders are intended to give victims autonomy and security as they take steps to free themselves from their abuser.
Recently, the law in Ohio had severely restricted the effect of such orders and limited the ability of law enforcement to hold abusers responsible for violating protection orders. Recent court rulings have made it a requirement for the State to prove that it had served the abuser with a copy of the protection order before the protection order could be valid. It didn’t matter if the abuser knew that the protection order was granted. It didn’t matter it the abuser was reckless in violating the order. The key to making the order valid was for it to be proven that the abuser was served with this order.
Serving such offenders can be difficult. This is because such individuals commonly live transient
lifestyles with no stable residence. In many cases, the offender is aware that the order was granted and actively seeks to avoid the effect of the protection order. By making proof of service the key, an offender could evade the effect of the protection order by evading service, like a game of cat and mouse.
This caused frustration on the part of police and prosecutors and left victims in a state of insecurity. Fortunately changes in the law will address the problems created by the requirement of service.
Effective September 26, 2017, law enforcement will no longer be required to prove actual service. From now on the protection order will be in effect if the State is able to show that the abuser had knowledge of the order.
Knowledge can be proven in any the following ways:
- The abuser was shown a copy of the protection order
- The Judge, Magistrate or law Enforcement informed the abuser of the order
- The protection order was mailed to the abuser’s address
If such circumstances exist, an offender may be arrested and prosecuted for a violation. During initial contact with the defendant, officers can ask if them if they are aware there is a protection order against them. It is important that officers document this in their report. If officers are on scene with the victim and the defendant calls, then you may inform them over the telephone that a protection order is in effect. If officers have access to their department database then this should be documented for future investigations and prosecutions. Officers who respond to calls of intimate partner violence and protection order violations understand the challenges of catching offenders and keeping victims safe. It is our hope that this change in Ohio law will provide further security to victims of such violence.
This article is not to be considered legal advice. Please consult your legal advisor regarding any legal issue.
Sherri Bevan Walsh
Summit County Prosecuting Attorney