Difference Between Protection Orders and Criminal Charges

Civil Protection Order Attorneys Serving People in the Seattle Area

There are several different kinds of civil protection orders available to victims of violence and abuse in the state of Washington, including restraining orders, domestic violence protection orders, no-contact orders, and anti-harassment orders. There are many differences between protection orders and criminal charges of which you should be aware. Sometimes actions that are significant enough to merit a protection order may not be sufficient for prosecutors to secure a criminal conviction. At Blair & Kim, our Seattle civil protection order lawyers handle both criminal defense and family law matters. This means that we can pursue protection orders or fight protection orders depending on our clients' interests, and we understand the ways in which a civil protection order can affect a criminal prosecution, as well as its impact on such issues as child custody.

Differences Between Protection Orders and Criminal Charges

Civil protection orders are distinct from criminal cases, but one can influence the other. Actions that give rise to a protection order may not be sufficient for a criminal charge. This may be because of the particular action, or it may be because there is insufficient evidence to meet the higher "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard of proof required for criminal convictions. A prosecutor trying to prove a crime needs to show that there is no reasonable doubt that things happened in the way that they allege in order to obtain a conviction against the defendant. Criminal evidentiary rules are very complex, and the type of crime at issue can influence which prior bad acts and which types of statements are admissible as evidence.

Civil cases, including petitions for protection orders, have a "preponderance of the evidence standard." Preponderance of the evidence simply means that it is more likely than not that things happened in the way that an alleged victim says that they happened in connection with the action that allegedly entitled them to a particular type of protection order. Often, there is not enough proof to show that things happened in a specific way beyond a reasonable doubt, but there is enough to get a protection order to protect an alleged victim.

For example, there might be just enough evidence to get a telephone anti-harassment order against someone who made a bunch of emotionally distressing calls to another person over a period of months for no legitimate reason. However, there might not be enough evidence for the prosecution to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the harasser had the requisite intent under CW 9.61.230 to harass, intimidate, torment, or embarrass the alleged victim through the repetitive phone calls.

Meanwhile, in some cases, there is criminal conduct that does not meet the criteria for a particular type of civil protection order. Usually, for example, if you get into a bar fight and throw a punch against a stranger, the stranger will not be able to get a protection order based on the punch, even though you could be charged and convicted of assault.

There are also substantial differences between civil protection orders and criminal charges regarding their consequences. If you are convicted of a crime, you face the possibility of incarceration, fines, and probation. A criminal record can make it harder to get a job or secure housing. For this reason, in many ways, a criminal charge is quite serious and potentially life-altering.

Protection orders are serious, but they are a civil matter. You would only face the possibility of incarceration if you violate a civil protection order that has been put in place. Fines are not associated with protection orders, although costs can be, and for financial purposes, these are similar. Civil orders show up on different databases than do criminal convictions. However, a civil protection order can restrict the future actions of the person to whom it applies in a significant way.

Statements made in either proceeding might affect the other, which is one reason why it is so important to get an attorney who can handle both matters. For example, if an alleged perpetrator of domestic violence testifies in a civil protection hearing, the testimony might be admissible for the purpose of securing a criminal conviction related to an assault against his girlfriend.

Consult a Seattle Attorney to Discuss a Sensitive Criminal or Family Law Matter

If you want to know more about the difference between protection orders and criminal charges, you should retain a skillful attorney who understands the potential legal consequences of both. Often, there are effects on both criminal and family law cases after a civil protection order is obtained. We have both a family law attorney and a criminal lawyer who can develop a strong strategy for your situation. We represent people in Seattle, Redmond, Kirkland, and Bellevue, as well as other areas of Kings County. Call us at (206) 622-6562 or contact us via our online form.