Facts and Fairness: Using Arizona’s Policies to Expose Restraining Order Iniquity

Posted on September 13, 2014

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I live in Arizona where I was issued a restraining order in 2006 petitioned by a woman I nightly encountered hanging around outside of my house. The restraining order said I was a danger to her husband and shouldn’t be permitted to approach or talk to him.

If you receive a restraining order in my home state, here’s the first thing that greets your eye:

On the basis of the form this warning captions—which looks like it was drafted by someone using a pizza crust as a straightedge—citizens are recorded in state and national police databases as stalkers and violent abusers.

Consider that the immediate impression this warning is meant to give is beware. It naturally excites fear—and if you’ve been falsely accused, a host of other emotions, besides, none of which conduces to calm and lucid thinking.

Something you wouldn’t guess from this “Warning to Defendant” is that if a defendant “disagrees” with an order issued in Arizona, s/he has the statutory right to apply for an appeals hearing at any time during the order’s effectiveness. For example, if the duration of the order is one calendar year, the defendant can take 11 months to assemble his or her appeal and save up, if necessary, to have an attorney represent that appeal.

Here’s the law:

At any time during the period during which the injunction is in effect, the defendant is entitled to one hearing on written request. No fee may be charged for requesting a hearing. A hearing that is requested by a defendant shall be held within ten days from the date requested unless the court finds compelling reasons to continue the hearing. The hearing shall be held at the earliest possible time. An ex parte injunction that is issued under this section shall state on its face that the defendant is entitled to a hearing on written request and shall include the name and address of the judicial office where the request may be filed. After the hearing, the court may modify, quash or continue the injunction.

The statute says the court’s order must inform the defendant that s/he’s entitled to a hearing, but it doesn’t require that the order inform the defendant that s/he has a year (or possibly years) in which to prep and apply for that hearing, that the hearing is free, or that the defendant may be represented by an attorney.

Restraining orders are rhetorical psych-outs. Their language is overtly menacing, and neither the law nor the issuing courthouse gives any consideration to apprising defendants of their rights.

The stress is on apprising defendants, who are presumed to suck (sight unseen), of what rights they’re no longer deemed worthy of.

Appreciate that the court’s basis for issuing the document capped with the “Warning” pictured above is nothing more than some allegations from the order’s plaintiff, allegations scrawled on a form and typically made orally to a judge in four or five minutes.

In the courthouse where the order issued against me was obtained, restraining order petitioners file into a room like a small bus station terminal, submit their applications, wait for an audience with a judge, chat with him or her for a few minutes, and leave.

That’s it.

Consequences of receiving an order of the court whose merits are determined on this basis include registration in state and national law enforcement databases, and may also include loss of entitlement to home, children, and possessions, and loss of employment.

In contravention of due process, orders are issued against defendants that may deny them liberties and property without the court’s hearing from them at all.

Ever.

In Arizona, unless a defendant requests a hearing before a judge, that’s an end on the process. No judge will even have learned what s/he looks like, and the truth of the plaintiff’s claims will never have been controverted—claims, to reiterate, that were made in a few minutes and could include anything from annoyance to physical or sexual violence.

Such claims often amount to nothing more certain than finger-pointing.

(Docket time afforded by the court to the testimony of defendants who go to the trouble of appealing rulings based on such claims, incidentally, is about 15 minutes. The cost of attorney representation at an appeals hearing may be $2,000 to $5,000.)

The only provision the law or the court makes for discouraging false testimony (some motives for which are here) is this one, which predictably appears at the very end of the application form:

The plaintiff signs below.

Applicants aren’t of course told what “perjury” is, and they’re certainly not told it’s a felony crime that carries a prison term (as it is and does in Arizona and many other states). Lying to the court is never sanctioned or prosecuted, anyway.

Recent posts on this blog were answers to dismissal by a doctor of laws of criticisms that the restraining order process is unfair. The process would have to be far more deliberative than it is, in fact, to be merely “unfair.”

The process is automated.

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