An Order of Protection is an Order issued by either the Family or Criminal Court limiting a person’s behavior because they pose a threat to another person. Most often, Orders of Protection are issued in situations involving domestic violence.
A Family Court Order of Protection is typically issued in a civil proceeding to a girl/boyfriend, a spouse, a co-parent or a family member. A Criminal Court Order of Protection is typically issued as a condition of a Defendant’s release and there need not be any relationship between the Complainant and the Defendant.
If a person violates a Court Order of Protection issued by any court, they are subject to being charged with the crime of Criminal Contempt.
There are three levels of Criminal Contempt in the NYS Penal Law ranging from A-Misdemeanor to a D-Felony. Depending on the circumstances, a person charged with either, N.Y.P.L. §§ 215.50 Criminal contempt in the second degree, 215.51 Criminal contempt in the first degree or, 215.52 Aggravated criminal contempt, faces a criminal conviction and a sentence from one (1) to seven (7) years in prison.
For the violation of an Order of Protection, Felony Criminal Contempt is the appropriate charge. Meaning if found guilty, the accused could be sentenced to seven years’ incarceration and five years’ probation in a matter that began as a civil domestic incident.
How is this possible? Consider the following hypothetical situation:
Spouse A and Spouse B have an argument, the argument does not have to involve physical contact or even in person communication. Over the course of the argument, angry words are exchanged that could be interrupted as violent or the threat of violence. The next day or soon thereafter, Spouse A goes to Family Court and files a family offense petition. The Court erring on the side of caution immediately issues a Full Order of Protection (also known as a “full stay away” order) against Spouse B pending his/her appearance. Spouse B is served with the Order and in an attempt to reconcile, hastily contacts Spouse A (via: telephone, text message, email or through a third party). Spouse A calls the police and reports the illegal contact, soon thereafter Spouse B is arrested and charged with Felony Criminal Contempt.
In the above scenario, the violating Spouse’s intent is immaterial. That is if s/he wanted to reconcile, apologize or, just called to obtain clothing or medication, whatever the reason it doesn’t matter because they are automatically guilty of violating the Order of Protection the moment contact is made.
Being saddled with a criminal conviction is difficult to bear but having a Criminal Contempt conviction can be even more stigmatizing. This is because the charge indicates the Defendant defied the Court and often employers and state licensing agencies scrutinize applicants with such a criminal history. Worse is the effect a Criminal Contempt conviction can have on a person’s immigration status, making the applicant ineligible for naturalization as it is considered a crime of moral turpitude.
In any full stay away Order of Protection situation, a person needs to be very careful. It is my experience that the Courts do not take a violation of their Orders lightly and Prosecutors vehemently pursue these charges. If you are charged with Criminal Contempt you need to seek legal representation immediately to protect your rights and raise an applicable defense. Contact my office to schedule a free confidential consultation.