Leslie Budewitz is the author of Books, Crooks and Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure (Quill Driver Books, October 2011). She is a practicing lawyer and a mystery writer living in northwest Montana. Read an excerpt and more articles for writers, or send her a question, at www.LawandFiction.com
A recent double homicide in Helena, Montana spotlights protective orders. Joe Gable and Michelle Coller married in 1986. They separated two years ago, and Michelle moved out of state. In September, she returned to Montana unexpectedly, and began what Joe viewed as harassment and intimidation. In one incident, she drove to his apartment, blocked his car with hers, entered, threw his laptop down the stairs, and refused to leave–all while he was changing the locks to keep her from getting in. http://helenair.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/shooting-details-emerge/article_8a5e5de6-f6ea-11e0-b9d6-001cc4c002e0.html
Joe requested a temporary order of protection. The judge concluded that his evidence did not establish personal danger or threat, and denied the request. http://helenair.com/news/local/protection-order-denied-by-judge/article_34a52548-f62b-11e0-8e0b-001cc4c002e0.html
Three weeks later, Joe filed for divorce. Two days later, Michelle entered his apartment at 6:00 a.m., and shot and killed him and another woman. She’s been charged with two counts of deliberate homicide.
I can only imagine how the judge feels. The situation proved more volatile–and violent–than the evidence before her had indicated. News accounts suggest she did not know the couple’s troubled history, including previous calls to police, or recent concerns by friends about Michelle’s mental health. http://helenair.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/joe-and-michelle-gable-timeline-of-a-troubled-relationship/article_87ca364a-f6ea-11e0-ba97-001cc4c002e0.html
So what’s the process for getting a protective order–also called a restraining order or “no contact” order? State laws vary, so writers, check your story state. (Start by Googling “protective order” and the state name.) Most court systems provide forms, requiring some or all of the following information:
– Relationship between applicant and respondent, e.g., married, divorced, separated, dating, parents of a minor child.
– Recent abuse, including when and where the incident occurred, who was present, any injuries, whether a gun or other weapon was threatened or used, and whether police were called.
– Past abuse, with the same information.
– Does respondent have a gun?
– Past or pending court cases between the parties.
– Protection sought. This may be as simple as checking boxes.
– No threats or acts of violence against applicant and other persons specified.
– No calls, emails, or other contact or communication with applicant and specified family members, victims or witnesses.
– Not take specified children out of the state or county.
– Maintain a specified distance from applicant or other persons protected in specific locations, e.g., home, work, vehicle, school, or day care.
– Not possess firearms.
– Not take, sell, damage, or dispose of specified property.
– Possession or use of specified property, e.g., a residence, vehicle, or other personal property, regardless of ownership.
– Is law enforcement help requested to obtain the property?
– The court may also order anger management counseling, or alcohol or chemical dependency counseling or treatment.
– Any other protection applicant thinks necessary. The judge can impose any conditions she thinks appropriate. Most courts use pre-printed orders with blanks for additions.
– Applicant should bring any witnesses to the hearing, along with any threatening letters, texts, voice mail messages, and so on.
– Applicant can request that her address be kept confidential. Obviously, that wouldn’t have helped Joe Gable, unless he had moved.
Orders are usually temporary, e.g., 20 days. The parties are required to come to court for a hearing on whether an order should be renewed, modified, or made permanent.
State law may also allow use of protective orders to grant temporary custody of minor children, establish visitation, and order temporary support payments.
If Joe Gable had shown sufficient danger or threat, would Michelle have honored the protective order? No way of knowing. Orders are often violated, sometimes with tragic consequences. But they are an important tool in decreasing violence, and protecting us all.
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By the way, folks, Leslie is my go-to expert for all things legal. Her new book is a must-have for every crime writer.
Get a copy here.
And Leslie’s just accepted a three-book offer from Berkley Prime Crime for The Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in NW Montana, debuting in 2013!