California Penal Code Section 166 PC: Violating A Court Order
1. Definition and Elements of the Crime
California Penal Code Section 166 PC prohibits a wide variety of behavior that could be considered “contempt of court,” including being excessively noisy during a court hearing, refusing to be sworn in as a witness or refusing to comply with a request from a judge. However, the most serious and commonly-charged violation of this statute occurs when someone intentionally violates a Court Order, which can include Protective Orders, Restraining Orders and Stay-Away Orders issued in Domestic Violence cases.
In order to prove that a defendant Violated a Court Order under Penal Code 166 PC, a prosecutor must establish the following elements:
- That a court had issued a lawful written order
- The defendant knew about the court order
- The defendant had the ability to follow the court order
- AND the defendant willfully violated the court order
While this statute applies to any protective order or stay-away order issued by a court, it would not apply to a person who violates a condition of probation, which is a legal court order. These violations are handled separately in Probation Violation Hearings and are specifically excluded from prosecution under Penal Code 166 PC.
A man has been charged with Domestic Battery in violation of California Penal Code 243(e)(1) PC and while the charges are pending, he has been ordered by the Court to stay away from the victim, his girlfriend. The man receives a text message from the girlfriend stating that she is no longer angry and wants to reconcile. The man goes to his girlfriend’s house to try and mend the relationship and is caught by police while there. The man can be prosecuted for Violating a Court Order under Penal Code Section 166 PC even though his girlfriend initiated contact and reached out to him.
In another example, two participants in a brawl have been ordered to stay away from each other while each is facing charges of Battery under California Penal Code Section 242 PC. The two men unexpectedly run into each other at the mall one weekend while the court order is still valid. Neither would be criminally liable for Violating a Court Order, as the violation was not willful.
3. Related Offenses
Violating a Restraining Order under California Penal Code Section 273.6 PC is a similar offense, with the only difference being that Penal Code 166 PC is a broader statute that applies to the violation of any court order or any action that can be considered contempt of court. Penal Code 273.6 PC only covers the violation of Protective Orders.
4. Defenses to Violating a Court Order Charges
Obviously, the statute requires that the violation be willful, therefore if someone accidentally runs into someone they are prohibited from contacting by court order, that person would not be criminally liable. However, courts and prosecutors are very suspicious about “accidental” run-ins, especially when they occur in Domestic Violence cases.
In addition, this is an offense in which False Accusations may be common, especially where there is a soured relationship and the protected party may have reason to want to cause trouble for the other party.
Most of the violations of Penal Code 166 PC are misdemeanors that can carry a sentence of up to six months in jail and hefty court fines. However, certain violations will cause increased penalties.
For those who are accused of violating a Protective Order or Stay-Away order issued in a Domestic Violence offense or Elder Abuse offense, the maximum punishment can be a year in jail. If the victim is injured as a result of the violation, there is a minimum sentence of at least two days in jail, in addition to whatever charges may be filed regarding the injury.
Any subsequent conviction for Violating a Protective Order for a Domestic Violence offense or Elder Abuse offense is considered a “wobbler” offense, which means that a prosecutor can charge it as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If charged as a felony a defendant can face up to three years in prison.
In addition, for defendants accused of possessing a firearm in violation of a court order, this offense is also considered a “wobbler” and is punishable by up to three years in prison.
6. Criminal Defense for Violating a Court Order Cases
Violating a Court Order is a serious offense that may have an entirely innocent explanation. Because of this, it is critical to speak with an experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney immediately if you or someone you know have been accused of or charged with this offense. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience and is highly respected throughout the court system for his legal expertise and litigation skills.
For more information about Violating a Court Order, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1480, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.