The Court of Appeals in RAMIREZ v. SALVATERRA, decided on July 23, 2020, assessed, analyzed and further provided legal guidelines for extending a Civil Protection Order (CPO) for more than a year.

As a summary, the Intrafamily Offenses Act codified in D.C. Code §§ 16-1001–1006, created a civil mechanism for addressing violence within families, that is, an imaginative and progressive system that was designed to promote prevention and treatment over punishment.  As such, the DC Courts have a wider range of dispositional powers than criminal courts to issue CPOs that enjoin future actions and provide for counseling and mental health treatment.

The CPO orders and filing generally can protect and seek to prevent and remediate particular criminal offenses such as: intrafamily, interpersonal, and intimate partner violence, as well as stalking, sexual assault, and sexual abuse.

The basic and general legal standard provides that a trial court may issue a CPO that is effective for up to one year if it “finds that there is good cause to believe the respondent committed or threatened to commit a criminal offense against the petitioner.”

The CPO orders may also vary and include a range of remedial provisions such as: including protective and rehabilitative measures, both mandatory and prohibitory, applicable to the petitioner as well as to the respondent and when deemed appropriate.

The standard of proof is a low threshold of a finding of good cause to issue a CPO and must only be supported by a preponderance of the evidence, the burden of proof being on the petitioner.

The caselaw definition of “good cause” as was articulated by the Supreme Court is:

The moving party must satisfy the court that relief is needed. The necessary determination is that there exists some cognizable danger of recurrent violation, something more than the mere possibility which serves to keep the case alive. The chancellor’s decision is based on all the circumstances; his discretion is necessarily broad and a strong showing of abuse must be made to reverse it. To be considered are the bona fides of the expressed intent to comply, the effectiveness of the discontinuance and, in some cases, the character of the past violations.

The Court of Appeals though in the current case only addressed and defined further legal conditions required to extend a CPO beyond the one-year initial order.

Thus, in order to extend a CPO:

  1. The trial court must determine based on the entire mosaic of the case and the underlying facts that the petitioner has demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that there is a cognizable danger that in the absence of an extension of the CPO, the respondent will commit or threaten to commit a criminal offense against the petitioner in the coming year. In another word, if good cause exists then it may extend the CPO.
  2. Once the trial court has found good cause and thereby satisfied the statutory threshold for extension, it must then proceed to balance the potential harms to the parties in order to determine whether it will, in fact, extend the CPO – and, if so, what the scope and parameters of that extension will be.

In balancing the harms to the parties, the trial court should examine multiple factors, including:

  • Safety (and resulting peace of mind),
  • Restraints on liberty,
  • Restraints on property,
  • Family interests,
  • Social stigma, and
  • Other collateral consequences and relevant circumstances.

Moreover, if the trial court determines, based on the balancing of the harms that it will extend the CPO, its balancing analysis should also impose proper scope and parameters to the CPO extension, including duration and conditions of compliance.

Refer to our Washington DC CPO Lawyer page for more detailed analysis on this subject matter as well as other areas of DC Family Law.

Categories: Family Law.