If you were recently arrested or received a Notice to Appear in criminal court, your first priority may correctly be to look for a criminal defense attorney and begin preparing your defense. You may be thinking about the ultimate goal: a jury trial, a plea, or – better yet – a way to get your case dismissed.
While we applaud and encourage a forward-looking approach to criminal defense, it is equally important to focus on the present. What restrictions are in place pending a resolution of your case? How do these restrictions affect your daily activities? What adjustments should you make to comply with these restrictions?
The most common of these pre-trial restrictions is a No Contact order. A judge can enter an order of no contact at First Appearance (the initial probable cause and bond hearing) within 48 hours of an arrest; alternatively, a judge can order no contact upon a subsequent motion by the prosecution and a finding of good cause. No contact orders prohibit the accused from contacting people or places that may have been involved in your underlying case.
Most courts do not explain orders of no contact, and most defendants are not trained in criminal law and procedure. For this reason, those accused of a crime may not understand a no contact order or may not realize it is in place at all. Because of the serious implications of violating an order of no contact, it is critical to seek the advice of a criminal defense attorney. In the meantime, read on for 5 important facts about no contact orders.
- A No Contact Order is NOT a restraining order. While restraining orders are civil in nature (arising from a petition for injunction), no contact orders stem from a pending criminal case. The good news about this is that no contact orders are only valid for the length of a criminal case, and not some other indefinite time. Upon resolution of your criminal case, the judge should rescind your no contact order since the criminal court’s jurisdiction has concluded. The only exception to this is if you are placed on probation and the probationary terms include “no contact” with a certain person or place.
- Violation of a No Contact Order is a crime. Whether or not the underlying criminal accusation is a contact-based offense, violating a court’s no contact order in and of itself is a separate crime punishable by one (1) year in jail and a $1000 fine. The charge is called “Violation of Condition of Pretrial Release,” and it is a first-degree misdemeanor.
- A No Contact Order can be in place even if you are released O.R. A common misconception about no contact orders is that it can only accompany supervised release, or “S.O.R.” This myth comes from the fact that S.O.R. involves an agency (pretrial services) that is in charge of monitoring defendants, whereas O.R. release (release on your own recognizance) doesn’t require a supervising entity. Defendants beware: Whether you are released on your own recognizance or under supervision, a judge can order No Contact with the alleged victim or other parties! A violation of either form of no contact can subject the accused to an additional criminal charge. If the violation occurs while under supervised release, the only difference is that the defendant also faces a violation of S.O.R. in addition to the violation of the no contact order.
- You can be charged EVEN IF the alleged victim initiated the contact! If your criminal case that is the basis for the no contact order involves a person (as opposed to a business), you need to be particularly careful. Whether or not the alleged victim wants contact, a judge can order no contact with that person. If, during the life of your criminal case, the alleged victim initiates contact with you, resist the temptation to respond! The alleged victim cannot get in trouble for contacting you, but YOU can. Judges have no jurisdiction to punish the alleged victim for contacting a defendant; however, they can enforce no contact orders against the accused with jail time and fines. A defendant is not any safer from a no contact order simply because the alleged victim changed his or her mind about contact or didn’t want a restriction in the first place.
- No Contact means No Contact BY ANY MEANS. This includes by phone, internet, third parties, or any other means of communication. This also includes contact through an attorney or representative (although an attorney may contact the subject of the no contact order as allowed by the justice system to send subpoenas and question the person as a witness in depositions, motions, trials, and other court hearings).
Much too often, a person accused of a crime gets into further trouble by minimizing or ignoring a no contact order. This is usually the case when the accused strongly believes he or she is innocent, or when the accused and the alleged victim make amends prior to the conclusion of the case.
Make no mistake – A no contact order should be taken seriously from the moment of inception until it is formally rescinded by court order, regardless of the merits of your case. Failure to abide by a no contact order can make a bad situation worse in the form of increased jail time, fines, and enhanced pretrial conditions. It also adds an additional case to your criminal record.
If you have been charged with violating a no contact order, call our Wellington, Florida criminal defense law firm for your defense.