Lifting Protective Orders

It’s hard to figure out where you stand as a prosecutor when a victim comes in and wants a protective order lifted.  On the one hand, you don’t represent them, you represent the people, but on the other hand, the order specific relates to them.  Should you refer the victim to the public defender and ask them to make the motion?  Should you make a screening decision before you let the victim talk to the court, and tell the victim whether you think the order should be modified?  Or immediately pass the buck up to your supervisor?

When I think about protective orders, the first case I think about is the murder of Monica Thomas-Harris by her estranged husband.  In that case, the district attorney’s office did not seek a criminal protective order against the husband, Curtis Harris, even though he had a long rap sheet and had acosted his estranged wife several times.  He pled guilty to false imprisonment of Monica and possession of a firearm and was released from jail to get his affairs in order prior to serving a prison term.  He abducted Monica Thomas-Harris again, killed her, and then killed himself.

I had a person in court today who wanted to lift a protective order that had been in place for three years so that he could take better care of the one-year-old child in common he had with the restrained woman.  Wait, what?  If we start over-issuing protective orders, especially in situations that don’t involve serious abuse, we undermine them all.  Still, I think the big picture is that you never want a victim to be harmed in a way that a protective order could have avoided.

Filling out a protective order could easily be considered just another part of the avalanche of paperwork that prosecutors are faced with every day.  It seems to me that a calendar deputy could easily have 5 cases a day that involve aspects of domestic violence and call for a protective order.  But if you treat these like paperwork, and especially if you do them sloppily or fail to do them altogether, you may be contributing to something like what happened to Monica Harris.  It’s a sobering thought.

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