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When Can a Texas Court Issue a Protective Order Against Someone Accused of Domestic Violence?

Even when domestic violence allegations do not lead to formal criminal charges, they can still have a significant impact on your legal rights. Individuals who claim to be the victims of domestic violence can ask a judge to issue a “protective order” against an accused abuser. If granted, these restraining orders can remain in effect for years–even decades–and place the subject in legal jeopardy for violating any of its terms.

Houston Appeals Court Affirms 30-Year Protective Order

For example, a state appeals court here in Houston recently upheld a 30-year protective order issued against a respondent accused of sexually assaulting his longtime partner. The accuser and the respondent were in a relationship over the course of 10 years, during which time they had two children.

In 2016, a Fort Bend County judge approved an order granting the accuser sole managing conservatorship (custody) of the children. The respondent had limited visitation rights under the order. Approximately seven months later, the accuser said she returned home and found the respondent in her apartment without permission. She said the respondent took her cellphone, forced her into the bedroom, and sexually assaulted her. The accuser said the respondent “threatened to kill her” if she resisted.

The accuser subsequently applied for a protective order with the Fort Bend court. At an April 2017 hearing, the respondent flatly denied the accuser’s allegations. The court also heard from a Fort Bend police detective who responded to the accuser’s apartment on the day of the alleged assault. The detective testified the accuser appeared “upset, visibly shaking, and scared.”

Under Texas law, a judge may issue a protective order if there are “reasonable grounds to believe the applicant is a victim of sexual assault.” This is a significantly lower burden of proof than in a criminal trial, where the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Here, the judge found the accuser’s version of events more credible and issued a 30-year protective order prohibiting the respondent from committing or threatening any acts of violence against the accuser. The order also forbids the respondent from communicating the accuser at all, except through “an attorney or a person appointed by the court,” or going within 200 yards of her known location, except to attend a court hearing.

Additionally, the judge prohibited the respondent from owning a firearm and ordered him to undergo sexual assault counseling. The respondent, acting without an attorney, appealed the judge’s order to the Texas 14th District Court of Appeals. But the appellate court affirmed the protective order, noting the trial judge was “was free to believe [the accuser’s] description and version of events and disbelieve [the respondent’s] denial.”

Speak with a Houston Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer Today

You always need to take allegations of domestic violence seriously, even if you know the charges are false. The first step towards protecting your rights is to speak with an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need help today, (281) 280-0100.