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A Detailed Examination of Maine’s Protection Orders & Related Issues

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Aug 8, 2022

A Detailed Examination of Maine’s Protection Orders & Related Issues

Protection from Abuse Orders in Maine

Protection orders – also referred to as “restraining orders,” “protection from abuse orders,” or “POs” – are court directives designed to provide a level of safety to a certain person or group of persons.

These orders can be used to achieve different goals: in some cases, they forbid the target person (i.e. the person restricted by the PO) from coming within a certain distance of the protected person or persons; in other cases, the PO may simply remove the target person from residing with the protected person any longer.

Protection orders can carry a wide range of provisions, as we will explore in some detail later on. In the State of Maine, protection orders come in two distinct forms – temporary orders, and permanent orders (which last for 2 years).

Protection orders can be issued in response to a wide variety of behaviors, but common reasons for a protection order request include stalking behavior, threats of physical violence, acts of physical violence, and so forth. Sadly, protection orders are commonly issued in domestic violence contexts: often, a family member will send threats to another family member, and then a protection order is eventually sought after attempts to resolve the situation fail.

The legal system in Maine takes protection orders very seriously, and so violations of established orders can carry heavy punishments. To make matters worse, the evidentiary hurdle for receiving a protection order is quite low and is by preponderance of the evidence, which means that the Plaintiff has to prove one or more of the allegations is more likely true than not.

In this post, we’d like to go over some of the key issues pertaining to protection orders in Maine: we will discuss the process for requesting and receiving a PO, the provisions of POs, how violations are punished, and other related matters.

Basics of Protection Orders: Temporary & Permanent Orders

As mentioned, protection from abuse orders come in one of two variations: the temporary order, which can last up to 21 days, and then the permanent order which lasts for 2 years. The permanent order can be reinstated, however, after the 2-year period, and so this is from where the “permanence” of permanent orders is derived. In many jurisdictions, these orders are called “restraining orders,” and the same is true for Maine; in Maine, these terms are used interchangeably. Temporary orders are typically have less evidentiary hurdles because the goal is to provide immediate assistance. The idea is that the temporary order is an emergency order, and so less evidence is required. This low bar will not apply to permanent orders, however.

Who is most commonly targeted by protection orders? The reality is that protection orders can target anyone, but certain types of people tend to come up with more frequency: ex-spouses, current spouses, ex-lovers, current lovers, a roommate or cohabitant, close family members, and extended family members. In protection order proceedings, the plaintiff (or petitioner for the order) is actually referred to as the “plaintiff” instead of the “victim,” because the PFA isn’t a criminal proceeding.

Learn More How do you acquire a protection from abuse order in Maine?

Can Protection Orders Be Issued on Behalf of Children?

The answer is “yes,” a parent can make a formal request or petition for a protection order on behalf of his or her child. If your child is the subject of stalking, or harassment, threats, violence, or other offensive behavior, you have the option to petition the court for a protection order on behalf of your child. However, you need to know that, just as with all other protection orders, the burden of proof is the same, and so you will need to show concrete evidence to substantiate your accusations. The court will not accept a lower bar or evidentiary hurdle simply because the protected party will be a child. This is certainly something which must be kept in mind if you attempt to obtain a PO for your son or daughter.

Responding to a Dangerous Threat (of Bodily Harm)

Protection orders can be shaped and molded to respond to different occurrences. For instance, if a person has been threatened with bodily harm with a weapon, the court can craft an order which actually restricts the target person’s access to weapons to maximize safety. Suppose that an offender threatens someone a knife or gun – when the victim goes to petition for a protection order, that victim should identify the exact weapon used by the perpetrator in the petition documents. The judge who reviews the petition can then make a determination as to whether the perpetrator’s access to weapons should be restricted. In making its decision, the judge will consider not just the perpetrator’s recent behavior, but also past criminal behavior, the magnitude or severity of the underlying incident, and other factors too.

An Overview of the Protection Order Process

If you need to request a protection order, the first thing you need to do is figure out which type of order is necessary. If you need a temporary order because you’re in immediate danger, then you need to file this request and prepare for a court hearing. You will present your evidence to the judge in the form of a written complaint, and then the judge will either issue or deny the order based on the evidence presented. Expectedly, the hurdle isn’t as high for a temporary order, but you will still need to provide enough facts to support your contentions. The court will never issue an order, even a temporary order, on nothing but baseless claims.

The request needs to be sufficiently detailed and descriptive regarding the underlying offense or offenses, and needs to be filed with the local county clerk. The judge won’t need to see you before making a decision on the temporary order. However, the judge may request additional information if the judge believes that such information could be determinative on the case. Judges hear requests for temporary orders as soon as possible after requests are filed because judges are aware of the stakes involved. If the temporary order is denied, you will receive an explanation for this decision.

If the temporary order is granted, the plaintiff will then have another court hearing to address the possibility of a permanent order after the before the expiration of the 21-day period runs. This hearing will be more akin to a “normal” court process: both the plaintiff and the defendant will have the opportunity to present their case to the judge, which usually includes testimony and sometimes the calling of witnesses, and the judge will consider all testimony and evidence before making a final decision.

Provisions of a Standard Protection Order

As we’ve discussed, protection orders are quite versatile in the sense that these orders can be used to address the specifics of a given situation. But, the content of most protection orders tends to be fairly predictable. Here are the “standard” provisions of protection orders here in Maine:

  • No Contact: the target person is restricted from making contact with the victim – calling, texting, emailing, in person visits, etc.
  • Peaceful Contact: the target person may contact the victim, but only for specific purposes,
  • Counseling / Therapy: the target person must attend counseling or therapy to correct underlying behavior problems (i.e. anger, depression, etc.),
  • Firearm / Weapon Restriction: the target person is restricted from owning or possessing firearms or other dangerous weapons for a period of time,
  • Minimum Distance: the target person cannot come within a certain distance of the victim (typically 100 years, or 300 feet), and
  • Move Out: the target person must remove himself or herself from the residence of the victim.

Again, these court orders are malleable, and so the content of a given order might vary from these standard provisions. When you file your request, you will put down all the details of your particular incident, which allows the court to develop its order in direct response to your situation. These standard provisions, in other words, don’t actually tell us anything about what content will be included with any given order.

Punishments for Protection Order Violations

Naturally, given the seriousness involved with protection orders, violations of protection orders tend to be punished harshly. The logic is that these orders are only issued when they pass substantial hurdles, and so violations cannot be taken lightly. Readers should also note that, when an order forbids contact (a “no contact” order), the target person can violate this order by any type of contact; a message on Facebook, for example, can violate an order, even though many people might assume this type of message to be innocuous.

As with nearly all other crimes in Maine, the punishments for protection order violations tend to be harsher and harsher after each instance. Usually, for an initial violation, the offense will be treated as Class D misdemeanor, and can result in a jail sentence of 364 days and a maximum fine of $2,000. On the whole, this is a fairly strict punishment for a first offense. Second offenses carry a maximum jail sentence of 5 years, and a maximum fine of $5,000, plus the possibility of probation.

Defense Strategies to Protection Order Violation Allegations

If you violate an established protection order, what sort of defenses can be raised by a criminal defense lawyer? What sort of strategies might a lawyer use to defend against this type of charge? Criminal defense lawyers use a variety of defense strategies when dealing with protection order violation allegations. The primary goal will be to review the case and then identify potential weaknesses which may sufficient to achieve a dismissal of the charge. Or, if this can’t be done, then at least lessen or mitigate the punishments which can follow a violation.

Your criminal defense lawyer may use one or more of these strategies:

  1. Presenting an argument in a cross-examination: your lawyer may attempt to cross-examine witnesses in order to poke holes in the prosecution’s case,
  2. Focusing on the prosecution’s hard evidence: your lawyer might focus on the hard evidence presented by the prosecution and attempt to find inconsistencies or factual inaccuracies, and
  3. Focusing on the police investigation: your lawyer might focus on the behavior of the police in order to find assailable material – if your constitutional rights were violated at some point, for example, this may weaken the prosecution’s case (or even defeat it altogether).

Contact the Maine Criminal Defense Group for More Information

As usual, this is quite a lot of information to absorb. Clearly, the State of Maine has a well-developed system for producing and enforcing protection orders for its citizens. Maine takes these protection orders quite seriously, and this is reflected in the relatively barrier of entry, as well as the punishments which can potentially follow from a violation.

If you’re currently grappling with a protection order which has been issued against you, or if you’re a current victim and you would like to file a request, contact the Maine Criminal Defense Group today and we can help you. We know the processes involved with protection orders, inside and outside, and so we can help you navigate these systems and generate the result you’re looking for. Call us today at 207-571-8146 to learn more.

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