Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib

Is Violating a Restraining Order a Crime?


Restraining orders are more common than you may think. While recent data can be challenging to find, as of 2003, there were more than 227,000 restraining orders active in California alone. As the state population has grown significantly in that time, it’s likely that the total number of these orders also has. If you are subject to a restraining order, you are not alone. 

Neither are you alone if you’ve been accused of violating a protective order. These orders can be confusing and difficult to follow. Even if you act in good faith and take reasonable precautions, you still may accidentally run into the protected person and risk being charged with a crime.

Regardless of the circumstances leading to charges for violating your restraining order, it’s crucial to understand how to defend yourself. Here’s what you need to know about protective orders, how they work in California, the potential penalties for violations, and how to get help defending yourself against accusations.

How California Restraining Orders Work

Restraining orders are court orders designed to protect recipients from abuse, stalking, and harassment. They can protect one person or an entire household, but they only place restrictions on one party, the “restricted person.”

If you are a restricted person, you will most likely be ordered to stay away from the protected person. You may also be required to do or not do certain things. The details depend on the specific order and the circumstances that lead to it being issued. If you are unclear about the rules you must follow, you should always reach out to the court or an experienced attorney, never the protected persons. 

Types of Protective Orders in California

There are four types of restraining orders to which you may be subject in California. The most common is a domestic violence protective order. If you have been accused or convicted of domestic violence or abuse, your accuser may receive a protective order against you. These orders can mandate that you:

  • Do not contact the recipient, their family, children, or household
  • Stay away from places the protected persons frequent
  • Follow divorce decrees and parenting plans
  • Continue to pay support
  • Continue to pay bills
  • Keep insurance policies the same
  • Complete a year-long batterer intervention program
  • Surrender any firearms you may own and ban you from acquiring new ones

Other types of restraining orders include:

  • Elder or Dependent Abuse: These orders are issued against people accused or convicted of abusing a dependent or an adult over 65. 
  • Civil Harassment: These may be issued against people accused or convicted of stalking, harassing, or abusing someone who doesn’t meet the criteria for domestic violence, elder abuse, or dependent abuse.
  • Workplace Violence: Employers may request these on behalf of their employees if a person is harassing, threatening, or acting violently against them. 

These are not as involved as domestic violence protective orders. However, they can still prevent you from contacting, purposefully going near the protected person or the places they frequent, or owning a gun.

Penalties for Violating California Restraining Orders

Violating a protective order is a serious matter. To ensure that restricted persons take the restrictions seriously and stop harassing or abusing the protected persons, California law includes significant penalties for these violations. Depending on the circumstances of an alleged breach, it could lead to a misdemeanor or felony charge

In general, first-time offenses are considered misdemeanor restraining order violations. They can be penalized by up to a year in jail and a fine of $1000. You may also be put on probation, ordered to pay restitution, required to perform community service, or attend weekly counseling sessions. 

Second and subsequent offenses, particularly those that cause harm to the victim, can be charged as felonies. These can lead to 16 to 36 months in jail and a fine of $10,000. 

Defending Yourself Against Allegations of Violating a Restraining Order

These penalties show that charges of violating a protective order should be taken seriously. Depending on the circumstances, potential defenses against these accusations include:

  • Unlawful orders: If an order is unlawful, such as if it was issued without a valid reason, you may be able to argue that it should not be enforced. This defense may be applicable if the protected person has requested the order to harass you. 
  • Lack of knowledge: You cannot be expected to follow an order you are unaware of. In addition, you cannot be held responsible for following orders if you know they exist but do not know what they say. For instance, if your partner gets an emergency restraining order against you and does not tell you about it, or if you are informed about the order but do not have the time to read it, you can dispute violation charges. This defense is most effective for charges filed shortly after emergency orders are issued. 
  • Lack of intent: A violation must be intentional. It is not a violation if you accidentally see the protected person at a coffee shop miles away. Similarly, visiting their workplace is not a violation if you do not know they work there. You also cannot be charged with violating the order if the protected person contacts or visits you. This is one of the most common forms of defense for long-term orders.

Get Help From the Law Offices of M. Gabriela Guraiib

If you have been charged with violating a protective order, there is no time to delay. You could face significant legal penalties for a genuine accident. That’s why you should reach out to an experienced criminal defense attorney like M. Gabriela Guraiib. Our Redwood City defense attorney works to achieve the best outcome depending on the specific situation you are facing. We can help you defend yourself against these criminal allegations in court or pursue reduced or dismissed charges depending on the circumstances of the case. Schedule your consultation today to learn more.