Are you facing criminal charges for violating a court order? If so, it is important to speak with a qualified criminal defense attorney in San Diego as soon as you can. Violating a court order may seem like a fairly minor offense, but it is actually a very big deal. Court orders are imposed for very specific and important reasons. Judges will not be happy when you do not follow their instructions. You can face time in jail for violating a court order. This is true even if the order you violated stemmed from a civil, family, or other non-criminal proceeding.
You have the right to defend yourself against any criminal charges, and San Diego criminal defense attorney Vikas Bajaj can help. With more than 19 years of legal experience, Mr. Bajaj has successfully defended clients just like you against a variety of criminal matters, including those for violating a court order. He knows how serious a criminal conviction can be and will do everything in his power to minimize the consequences of your arrest. Using an aggressive pre-investigative strategy, Mr. Bajaj is often able to secure a reduction or dismissal of the charges against his clients. Call today to schedule an initial consultation and find out how he can help you, too.
What is a Court Order?
A court order includes any written direction, process, steps, or instructions that are lawfully issued by a court. Court orders can be issued in criminal cases, civil proceedings, family law matters, and any other legal proceeding before a judge. Orders are issued for a variety of reasons and can be used to compel or prohibit conduct. For example, a judge may issue a restraining order which prohibits you from contacting or going near a specific person, or issue an order to compel testimony. Once the court has issued an order you are legally obligated to follow its terms.
When Can You Be Charged With Violating a Court Order?
In California, it is illegal to willfully and knowingly violate a lawful court order.
California Penal Code Section 166 PC explicitly prohibits the “willful disobedience of the terms as written of any process or court order or out-of-state court order, lawfully issued by a court, including orders pending trial.” In other words, if you intentionally violate a court order in any way, you can be charged with a crime under 166 PC.
In order to convict you on criminal charges under 166 PC, the prosecution must prove each of the following elements:
- A lawful court order exists, either compelling or prohibiting you from engaging in some behavior.
- You knew about the court order and its terms.
- You had the ability to follow the court order.
- Having this knowledge and ability, you willfully violated the order.
What does it mean to have “knowledge” of the order and its content? In California, you will only be considered to have knowledge of a court order and its contents when you have been given the opportunity to read and review that order. It is not necessary that you actually take advantage of this opportunity.
A court will ensure that you are aware of the order by reading it to you directly in court and/or having it personally served to you.
Violating an Order in Whole or in Part
You can face criminal charges under 166(a)(4) PC when you violate any of the terms of a written court order. For example, let’s say that you receive a court order that compels you to show up in court on a certain date at a specific time. You could be charged with violating a court order if you show up late. Even though you eventually showed up, your tardiness was in violation of the order.
Other examples of behavior that may warrant criminal charges for violating a court order include:
- Disregarding the terms of a restraining order,
- Continuing to engage in certain behavior, even though the court has issued an injunction,
- Refusing to answer questions and/or testify as a witness,
- Disrupting court proceedings, and
- Refusing or failing to turn over evidence.
Penalties for Violating a Court Order
Violating a court order is a misdemeanor offense in San Diego. In most cases, the maximum criminal penalty for violating a court order includes:
- Six months in a San Diego County jail, and
- $1,000 in fines.
Some court orders are issued for the purpose of protecting a person from imminent danger and harm. If you willfully violate a restraining order and/or stay-away order you can be sentenced to one year in a San Diego County jail and $5,000 in fines. Multiple violations of restraining orders and/or stay-away orders can result in up to 3 years in a California state prison and $10,000 in fines. If you injure another person while violating a restraining order you will be required to spend at least 48 hours in jail.
Penalties for violating a court order can also be aggravated if you use a firearm, have been convicted of stalking in the past, or have prior convictions for violating a court order.
Defenses for Violating a Court Order
You have the right to defend yourself against any criminal charges, including those for violating a court order. The defenses you use should help to explain, excuse, or justify your behaviors. The more persuasive the defense, the better your chances of success. Prosecutors who can’t prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt will be more inclined to offer a plea or drop the charges. Defenses that may be helpful in your case include:
- You didn’t know the court order existed.
- You violated the order by mistake.
- You were not capable of following the terms of the order.
- The order was not lawful.
Fighting Criminal Charges in San Diego
When you are charged with a crime in San Diego it is important to fight for your future. When you are convicted of a crime, no matter how minor, your life will be changed forever. Hiring an attorney to handle your defense will increase the chances of securing the best possible outcome in your case.
Call the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC to find out how we can help to protect your future. Clients who are searching for help can schedule an initial consultation with us. During this consultation, we will review your case, explain your rights as a defendant, and outline a strategy for your defense.