This post is part of DC SAFE’s CourtWatch project, which provides system analysis of Civil Court, as experienced by survivors of domestic violence, through observation of Court proceedings in partnership with the DC Superior Court. This is the new home of CourtWatch updates; archived posts can be found here.
Civil Protection Order Process and Outcomes
As part of our ongoing examination of data from the 2014-2015 CourtWatch Project, we’re examining case outcomes in the DC Superior Court’s Domestic Violence Unit, where survivors of domestic violence can obtain legal protection from abusers. Our previous post examined the demographics of parties who appeared in DV Court. Today’s post will look at the broad outcomes of these cases, and describe the process that survivors go through to obtain these outcomes. Later posts will look more deeply at how demographic and other factors related to Petitioners (those who file cases claiming abuse) and Respondents (the party filed against) may correlate to specific outcomes.
As our last post described, Civil Protection Orders (or CPOs) are an important and powerful tool for survivors in finding safety after an incident of domestic violence, and also a critically important way to hold offenders legally accountable for their actions. Through a CPO request a survivor can present his or her story to the Court and seek a number of different kinds of relief—stay-away orders, no-contact orders, temporary custody of children, and mandatory counseling intervention for the alleged abuser—among others.
The process of obtaining a Civil Protection Order in DC Superior Court:
In order to obtain a protection order, the Petitioner (person who is applying for the order) must go through a multi- step process.
First: A survivor goes in-person to the DC Superior Court, or the satellite office at United Medical Center and files a petition at the Domestic Violence Intake Center (DVIC). Petitioners may receive the assistance of one or more agencies located at the DVICs in filing their paperwork, and may be connected to additional advocacy or supportive services at that time.
Petitioners who feel they are in immediate danger may also request a TPO (Temporary Protection Order) in addition to the CPO. A TPO, if granted by a judge, becomes immediately effective and enforceable as soon as the Respondent is served with a copy of the Court’s order and the filing. Temporary protection under the TPO lasts for 14 days (usually until the final hearing for the CPO), or until renewed by a judge, replaced with a CPO, or vacated (withdrawn). If a Petitioner requests a TPO, s/he will have a hearing in front of a judge the same day as the filing.
During the next 2 weeks, the Respondent (the person against whom the petition is brought) must be served with the Petition, the Court’s Notice of Hearing and Order to Appear, as well as the TPO. The Respondent may be served by the police or any person 18 years or older. The Respondent does not need to accept the papers, but they need to be handed to him or her.
If, after the respondent is served, s/he violates the TPO, the Petitioner can report the violation immediately to the police or to the Court. The Petitioner should consider also collecting any evidence (text messages, voicemail, social media postings, pictures, witnesses, medical bills, etc), or obtaining legal advice and information, which is often available in the DVICs (you do not need a lawyer to get a Civil Protection Order, but it can be helpful).
The CPO Hearing occurs 2 weeks after the Petitioner files a petition for a CPO/TPO, though it may be Continued (extended to a new date) for a variety of reasons. Petitioners who have been unable to serve a Respondent or cannot make it to Court for any reason should notify the DVIC and the Court as soon as possible, as there may be assistance available, and the case may be Continued rather than merely Dismissed.
If the Respondent has been served and is present at the hearing…
The parties will first be required to meet separately with an attorney negotiator to try to reach an agreement about the CPO, though parties are not obligated to reach one.
If an agreement is reached: the judge will review the order to make sure that everyone involved understands the terms of the order; both parties will then sign the order which will be effective for one year. The resulting order is often called a Consent Order.
If no agreement is reached: a hearing will be held in front of a judge who will hear any witnesses or any evidence of injury or threats. After listening to both sides, the judge will make a decision. The resulting Contested Case results in a CPO or a CPO denial.
If the Respondent is not present at the hearing…
…And the respondent was served: then there will be a Default ruling and the judge may issue the CPO in the Respondent’s absence if s/he finds there is reasonable belief that harm occurred.
…And if the respondent was not served: the Petitioner can ask to Continue the case, which means that the judge will reschedule the hearing to allow time for the Respondent to be served with the Protection Order. A judge may also Dismiss the case, if s/he feels it is appropriate.
If neither party is present at the hearing, then the case is usually Dismissed.
General outcomes for victims who have petitioned for Civil Protection Orders in DC Superior Court:
Of the CPO cases that were recorded by CourtWatch volunteers:
- 39% of all cases were Continued
- 27% of all cases were Dismissed
- 19% of all cases had a Consent Order, and ultimately granted the CPO
- 8% of all cases had a Default Order
- 8% of cases that had a default order, the CPO was granted;
- <1% of cases that had a default order, the CPO was denied.
- 7% of all cases were contested
- In 4% of cases the case was contested and the CPO was granted
- In 3% of all cases the case was contested and the CPO was denied
- In 0% of all cases) the case was contested and continued.
When a CPO is Dismissed, it can be dismissed With Prejudice, or Without Prejudice. When a case is Dismissed With Prejudice, it means the Judge has found cause to permanently dismiss the claims of the Petitioner, preventing these claims from being brought again in a new case. Cases Dismissed Without Prejudice may be re-filed, or filed as part of a new case.
Of the CPO dismissals that were recorded by CourtWatch volunteers:
- 51% were dismissed without prejudice due to Petitioner’s absence
- 30% were dismissed without prejudice due to a request by the Petitioner
- 8% were dismissed without prejudice for other reasons
- 6% were dismissed without prejudice because service was unsuccessful
- 2% were dismissed with prejudice after an absence by the Petitioner
- 3% were dismissed for other reasons
Of the Continued Cases that CourtWatch volunteers observed:
- 43% were granted to allow the Petitioner additional time to serve Respondent
- 28% were granted for Other Reasons
- 13% were granted at the petitioner’s request
- 14% were granted trailing a criminal case, setting the matter aside until Criminal charges against the Respondent in the same matter were settled
- 2% were granted without a reason specified
- 0% was granted at the respondent’s request
- 0% was granted, in abeyance
Profiles of Civil Protection Orders seekers in DC
Civil Protection Orders (or CPOs) are an important and powerful tool for survivors in finding safety after an incident of domestic violence, and also a critically important way to hold offenders legally accountable for their actions. Through a CPO request, a survivor can present his or her story to the Court and seek a number of different kinds of relief—stay-away orders, no-contact orders, temporary custody of children, and mandatory counseling intervention for the alleged abuser—among others.
Through DC SAFE’s CourtWatch Project, trained advocates and volunteers observe CPO hearings at the DC Superior Court to attempt to better understand the experience of survivors as they navigate this system, and provide valuable feedback to the Court and to community providers on whether or not the processes involved in seeking and obtaining a CPO are effective at serving survivors in need, and learning more about who those survivors are.
In this post, we’ll report back on the simple demographics of CPO Petitioners (those requesting an order) and Respondents (the party who’s being filed against). It’s important to note that simply because a Petitioner files a request for a CPO does not mean that the Petitioner is always necessarily the abused party—though as we will see in later posts, the Court overwhelmingly found Petitioners to have grounds and to have demonstrated their abuse through a preponderance of evidence. However, in a later post, we’ll dig deeper into how the demographics of the parties was occasionally associated with different case outcomes and the experience of Judicial behaviors.
For now, this is a snapshot of who was before the Court in 2014.
NOTE: The judgement of a Petitioner or Respondent’s identity was made based on the perception of the observer. While this absolutely asks observers to make assumptions that would be artificial or inappropriate in other contexts, we structure the observation this way to best approximate how a party might be perceived, rather than how they identify themselves. The only exception to this is in cases where a party verbally disclosed an identity other than the perceived or assumed identity while in Court. In such cases, the party was recorded with the identifiers they disclosed.
Of all Petitioners for whom DC SAFE observed recorded a perceived race/ethnicity:
- 85% were Black;
- 7% were Hispanic;
- 6% were White;
- 1% were Asian;
- 1% were not identified within any of the aforementioned categories.
Of the Petitioners for whom DC SAFE recorded a perceived gender:
- 79% were female (n673);
- 21% were male (n177).
Of the Petitioners for whom DC SAFE recorded a perceived age group:
- 17% were 25 years or younger;
- 58% were between 26 and 39 years old;
- 15% were between 40 and 50 years old;
- 10% were 51 years or older.
Of the Respondents for whom DC SAFE recorded a perceived race/ethnicity:
- 81% were identified as Black;
- 8% were identified as Hispanic;
- 7% were identified as White;
- 2% were identified as Asian;
- 2% were not identified within any of the aforementioned categories.
Of the Respondents for whom DC SAFE volunteers recorded a gender:
- 72% were male;
- 28% were female.
Of the Respondents for whom DC SAFE volunteers recorded an age:
- 12% were 25 and younger
- 60% were between 26 and 39 years old;
- 18% were between 40 and 50 years of age;
- 10% were 51 years and older.
New initiative will-use technology to aid court observation
We are pleased to announce that this fall, DC SAFE is implementing a new electronic data capture program at the D.C. Superior Court, Domestic Violence Unit. DC SAFE has long partnered with the DC Superior Court, allowing volunteers and advocates to record key data on access to justice for domestic violence survivors in Civil Protection Order proceedings, including demographic data on parties, judicial behaviors, and case outcomes.
Despite successful reports and blog posts from in recent years, DC SAFE staff and our institutional supporters recognized the necessity of an efficient data recording system to enable us to analyze our data quickly, and to ultimately publish fresh data that reflect the current practices of judges and the experience of Petitioners and Respondents at Court. By using electronic data recording and automated data analysis on Court-approved tablets, DC SAFE and CourtWatch hope that this process will help us to identify meaningful features of the justice system, and be more immediately responsive to the trends we uncover.
Look for upcoming posts on CourtWatch observations in the most recent year:
Over the next month, DC SAFE will share our recent findings from Civil Protection Order proceeding data and preliminary analyses.
You can look forward to reading about:
Demographics of Civil Protection Order Litigants
An Overview of the Civil Protection Order Process and Recently Observed Outcomes
Relationship Between Case Outcomes and Demographics
Factors in Judicial Behavior
Relationship Between Judicial Behaviors and Litigant Demographics
Legal Representation and Case Outcomes
Looking for a Volunteer Opportunity?
Or how about an opportunity to learn about the D.C. Courts and/or domestic violence within the legal system?
We invite you to join our growing team of DC Safe CourtWatch volunteers who observe Civil Protection Order proceedings at the D.C. Superior Court, CPO session! Our new recording program makes it easier than ever to contribute to our work, which ensures that victims of Domestic Violence have equal access to a clear, fair and consistent judicial process that prioritizes victim safety and offender accountability.
All volunteers must participate in a specialized training session, and will be required to sign authorized use agreements before accessing the Court or observation technology.
Please see the volunteer page for more information.