A Restraining Order is Just a Piece of Paper
John Keegan, Judge,
Lake Pleasant, Arizona, Justice Court
Peoria Republic, 20 April 2007

On April 2, 2007, Rebecca Griego was shot to death in the Seattle Area by a man who had been stalking and harassing her for several months.  She had a restraining order against him.  Unfortunately, that was not enough.

In Arizona, there are several types of restraining orders.  Most common are orders of protection and injunctions against harassment.  There is a special kind of injunction for job site problems.  If you feel threatened or harassed, it is important to know what these orders do and what they do not do to protect your safety.

Any judge in Arizona can issue a restraining order.  This includes justices of the peace, city magistrates, and Superior Court Judges.  In extreme case, an emergency order of protection can be issued, generally by having a police officer contact a judge after court hours or on weekends.

An order of protection is designed to prevent domestic violence and is generally issued when both parties are members of the same family or household, including former roommates.

It does not affect matters of child custody or property settlements.

In some cases, it can restrict contact with children or grant exclusive use of a home to one party for the duration of the order.  In the case of potential violence involving a weapon, the order may require the defendant to surrender all firearms.

An injunction against harassment is designed to stop harassing, annoying or alarming actions.  Often these are against neighbors, strangers, former dating partners or anyone else who does not fit into the category of family or household members.  These injunctions are more limited in scope, but can order that the defendant not make contact in person, in writing, telephonically or electronically.

On occasion, in order to stop bullying at school, I have restricted a defendant from attending school where the victim was enrolled.

There is no charge to request a restraining order, which is good for one year except for an emergency order which is only good until the next business day when a regular order can be heard.  The defendant - the person against whom the order is issued - does not have to be present.
To give the defendant due process, he or she may request a hearing at any time and it will be granted within 10 days, sooner if use of a home has been restricted.  The person requesting the order should make every effort to attend the hearing.  Without his or her testimony, it is likely the order will be lifted for lack of substantiation. 

It is important to keep in mind what a restraining order is not.  It is an order of the court, violation of which can result in a charge of interfering with judicial process, which is similar to contempt of court.  It is not physical protection.  It is a piece of paper, and paper alone cannot stop abuse.  The victim must be vigilant about his or her own safety.

Unfortunately for Rebecca Griego, she took the recommended step of getting a restraining order but that was not sufficient.

Any victim of threats or harassment should use all legal means at their disposal to protect their safety.  The court system is ready to issue the appropriate orders, but that alone is not sufficient.

Restraining orders are tools, not protection

Former Phoenix Police Sgt. Paul Penzone dispelled the rumor that restraining orders scare everyone away. Restraining orders can help when danger is imminent, but only if law enforcement can get there in time. By no means do orders of protection provide you a level of safety. They do provide you with a level of security.

Penzone said  "You can't treat that as though this will keep you safe," he said. "It is truly your own instincts and abilities that will keep you safe from a threat of violence."

People who have a restraining order in place can call police when they feel something bad is about to happen, but Penzone said police don't have a large window to help."They'll only give you about a 15-minute window," he said, adding that they often get called away to other crimes. Should the police leave and the dangerous person makes a move, Penzone said things can go bad quickly.

"The person who is intent on carrying out violence has all of the edges, all of the advantages, so it's really more about survival than avoidance," he said.

Penzone said females are often the victim. "Domestic violence will always be a plague on women primarily," he said.And Penzone has seen his fair share of cases of women being attacked as soon as the order of protection expires. "There are a lot of cases that show that as soon as they expire, the women in those cases are extremely vulnerable in that short-term time frame."