4 Things You Should Know About Violating a Protective Order

California Penal Code 166(a)(4)

Violating a criminal protective order, sometimes called a “restraining order,” amounts to contempt of court and is a criminal offense under California Penal Code 166(a)(4).

Protective orders and restraining orders are issued by different courts and its impirtant to understand their differences.

Watch this video to understand:

  • What is and is not allowed under a protective order
  • The difference between a restraining order and a protective order.
  • If a case is dismissed will the protective order automatically be removed?

Judges can issue protective orders in connection with both criminal and civil cases and often issue protective orders in connection with California domestic-violence related offenses.

A violation of a civil restraining order is prosecuted under penal code 273.6 and is still a crime even though the order was issued in civil court.

The Elements The Prosecutor Must Prove


In order to convict a defendant of violating a protective order, the prosecutor must prove:

  • There was a valid protective order in place that was legally issued by a judge1;
  • The defendant had knowledge of the protective order’s existence and terms2
  • And the defendant intentionally violated the terms of the order.

 Defenses To Charges Of Violating A Protective Order


Fortunately, there are several effective defenses to charges of violating a protective order:

You Lacked Knowledge Of The Protective Order

If the defendant did not know that there was a protective order in place, then he cannot knowingly violate the order.

false accusation sign

This includes having the opportunity to read the order even if you did not actually read the order3.

Example Of Lacking Knowledge

If a judge issued an emergency protective order without holding a hearing, the defendant would not know that the order had been issued unless someone, usually a police officer, informed him of the order and served him with a copy.

If the police officer failed to provide the defendant with proper notice of the order, then the defendant cannot be convicted of violating the order.

You Lacked The Intention To Violate

Even if the defendant had knowledge of the protective order and its terms, the defendant still cannot be convicted of violating the order if his alleged actions in violating the order were not intentional.

false accusation sign
Example Of Lacking The Intention To Violate

If the defendant was ordered to stay 100 feet away from his wife, but the defendant accidentally crossed paths with his wife in an unexpected location such as at a gas station.

What If The Meeting Was Intentional?

If the defendant intentionally went to see his wife in violation of the order, knowing that he would see her, the prosecutor can prove the necessary intent.

open the door

This is true even if the victim asked the defendant to meet them.  The victim’s invitation to meet is not a defense to violating a protective order.

You Were Falsely Accused

Another available defense is a false accusation.

false accusation sign

In some cases, a defendant can show that the alleged victim was simply lying when she reported that the defendant contacted her in violation of the protective order.

In the absence of corroborating evidence, the case may be reduced to he said/she said situation in which the prosecutor may have a difficult time carrying their burden of proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Penalties For Violating A Protective Order


Protective order violations are usually charged as misdemeanor offenses.

A misdemeanor offense carries a penalty of up to one year in county jail, probation, fines of up to $1000.

The crime can be charged as a felony under certain circumstances, depending on whether the defendant has previously been convicted of violating a protective order and whether the alleged violation resulted in any injuries to the victim.

Penalty For Felony Violation of a Protective Order:

The penalties can be even more severe, including time in state prison, and fines of up to $10,000.

Important Information

How We Can Help

As a former prosecutor, Diana Weiss Aizman of the Aizman Law Firm has extensive experience and unique insight into the defense of charges of protective order violations.

Contact the Aizman Law Firm right away at 818-351-9555 for a free confidential consultation if you are charged with violating a protective order under PC 166(a)(4).


  1. Order Must Be Lawfully Issued. Pen. Code, § 166(a)(4); People v. Gonzalez (1996) 12 Cal.4th 804, 816–817 [50 Cal.Rptr.2d 74, 910 P.2d 1366]; In re Berry (1968) 68 Cal.2d 137, 147 [65 Cal.Rptr. 273, 436 P.2d 273] []
  2. Knowledge of Order Required. People v. Saffell (1946) 74 Cal.App.2d Supp. 967, 979 [168 P.2d 497] []
  3. Must Have Opportunity to Read but Need Not Actually Read Order. People v. Poe (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d Supp. 928, 938–941 [47 Cal.Rptr. 670]; People v. Brindley (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d Supp. 925, 927–928 [47 Cal.Rptr. 668], both decisions affd. sub nom. People v. Von Blum (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d Supp. 943 [47 Cal.Rptr. 679] []