Criminal Contempt

Violating New York Restraining Orders & Orders of Protection

If strict liability crimes truly existed in the New York Penal Law, Criminal Contempt in the First Degree, Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree and Aggravated Criminal Contempt would be their codification. Although there are numerous subsections of each of these degrees of Criminal Contempt, unlike pure “strict liability” claims in the civil realm, in order to violate New York Penal Law 215.50, New York Penal Law 215.51 or New York Penal Law 215.52 you must have knowledge of the order of protection’s existence. To be clear, even if service may not have been proper, as long as the prosecution can prove you violated the terms of the restraining order and your knowledge of its existence, this crime may be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

What should be of great concern to anyone charged with NY PL 215.50, NY PL 215.51 or NY PL 215.52, is that even if your intent was to make up with the person whom the order of protection prevents your contact with or the two of you have reconciled, it may be of no legal relevance. This is where the “strict liability” standard kicks in and you, as an alleged violator, will not only be arrested (it is mandatory in domestic relationships), but if you are convicted of Criminal Contempt in the Second Degree or First Degree or Aggravated Criminal Contempt, your outlook is bleak. Second Degree Criminal Contempt is an “A” misdemeanor while a conviction for Criminal Contempt in the First Degree is an “E” felony. These crimes are punishable with sentences up to one year in jail and four years in state prison respectively. Aggravated Criminal Contempt trumps both crimes and is a “D” felony punishable by as many as seven years in prison.

As noted above, Criminal Contempt is commonly seen in the domestic context. Whether the original order of protection or restraining order was issued by a judge in Family Court, Criminal Court or some other court is of little significance. What is important is the language on the order. For example, if the order is a “full stay away” order, then there can be no direct or indirect contact. If the order is a “limited” order, the court may permit contact as long as the contact is not of a threatening or harassing nature. A third option which is commonly seen, and is often issued, is a restraining order that permits “incidental contact” where two people may work together or live in the same building.

While every case is unique, arrests for Criminal Contempt carry a much greater stigma. Anything that “smells” from ignoring a court order or perpetrating an act of domestic violence can cause havoc to your career and reputation. Whether you are a professional in the financial, legal, medical or any other sector, do not think for a moment that you are immune from this “scarlet letter.” In part, anyone with minimal knowledge of New York criminal law will recognize that in order to be arrested for Criminal Contempt there must have been an underlying or original restraining order in place. You can’t be guilty for contempt if there was nothing in place for you to violate. Further, beyond the Criminal Contempt arrest and charge, depending on your conduct you may also be charged with many other crimes such as Assault or Aggravated Harassment. Simply, assumptions will be made and you must be prepared to answer questions (or not) should they be asked by friends, family or employers.

Even beyond your career and licensing with organizations such as FINRA, the bar association or the Department of Education, another concern for a select group of people charged with Criminal Contempt is how it can impact your immigration status. Depending on the facts and allegations, a conviction for NY PL 215.50, NY PL 215.51 or NY PL 215.52 can be considered a crime of moral turpitude. This moral turpitude standard is exactly what can lead to your inability to renew or maintain your legal status in the United States.

Regardless of the allegations in terms of how you violated an order of protection or restraining order, you must take the case seriously and identify what your defenses may be going forward. Was the complainant contacting you first or multiple times? Although nothing in the order will prevent the complainant from doing so, is the order of protection being manipulated by the complainant for use as a “sword” instead of a “shield?” Additionally, what proof exists that you violated the order? Is it merely the word of the complainant or are there text, email or voice messages? While it may not be a defense, does the complainant not want an order of protection and prosecutors issued one anyway? If the complainant is cooperative with your team, how can he or she work with your counsel to end the criminal case?

Whatever the circumstances, do not take an arrest for Criminal Contempt lightly. Depending on numerous factors, prosecutors can and do proceed with prosecutions even without the consent or involvement of victims. If you do not protect yourself and retain experienced criminal counsel, but instead chose to ignore the gravity of your Criminal Contempt allegation, you will bare the dire consequences to your career, future and potential liberty.

Call the New York Criminal Contempt lawyers and former Manhattan prosecutors at (212) 312-7129 or contact us online today.

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