False Allegations and Restraining Orders: The Moral Snare

Posted on November 4, 2012 by


Someone writes: “I made false allegations to obtain a PPO [an order of protection]. What do I do?”

Disappointingly, this is the first such query this blog has received. Hearteningly, it’s something. And this person should congratulate him- or herself on having a belated pang of conscience.

The ethical, if facile, answer to his or her (most likely her) question is have the order vacated and apologize to the defendant and offer to make amends. The conundrum is that this would-be remedial conclusion may prompt the defendant to seek payback in the form of legal action against the plaintiff for unjust humiliation and suffering. (Plaintiffs with a conscience may even balk from recanting false testimony out of fear of repercussions from the court. They may not feel entitled to do the right thing, because the restraining order process, by its nature, makes communication illegal.)

The lion’s share of the blame for fraud and its damages, of course, clearly falls on the shoulders of plaintiffs—the knots are theirs to untie—but the court should also recognize culpability.

The restraining order process is a honeypot to people nursing a grudge: it’s cheap, convenient, and accommodating. Its making the means to lash out readily available to anyone with a malicious impulse might even be called entrapment. And the court neither acknowledges this process’s consequences to wrongly accused defendants nor impresses upon plaintiffs the consequences to them of making false allegations.

(One defendant I corresponded with this year—who happily succeeded in having the order against her quashed months and thousands of dollars later—was clawing her hair out and dosing herself to sleep. Her young daughter was traumatized by the episode, too. She was accused of domestic violence by a man she’d briefly renewed a friendship with. He was put up to baselessly attacking her through the courts by his wife, who felt jealous—which he admitted in court after dragging the defendant through hell.)

By definition, a civil process shouldn’t foster discord and distress. Maybe lawmakers should mandate a cooling-off period before judges are authorized to approve restraining orders, as they do with handgun purchases.

Or maybe they should put this corrupt institution on ice.

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