In May 2010, University of Virginia lacrosse star Yeardley Love was beaten
to death by her one-time boyfriend and Virginia lacrosse player George
Huguely. Apparently jealous over Yeardley's relationship with another
man, Huguely had sent her a threatening e-mail just one week before killing
her in her own bedroom. Despite Huguely's threats, Yeardley would
not have been eligible for a
protective order against him based on Virginia law at the time.
Broadly, a protective order is one issued by a judge that may prohibit
someone from threatening, hurting or contacting another person. A protective
order is necessary to protect an individual facing a valid threat, but
anyone who is the subject of a protective order is in a serious legal
situation and should consult a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer to
protect his or her rights.
Until July 1, 2011, Virginia protective orders were only available to victims
on two bases. There must have either been some type of family or household
connection, or an arrest warrant must have been issued for a stalking,
sexual battery offense. The law provided no option for those being harassed by strangers,
neighbors, co-workers or even those in volatile dating relationships,
if they fell outside those two categories.
A Needed Change
Ms. Love's untimely death drew national attention to Virginia's
narrow law and prompted the state legislature to expand the scope of protective
orders, making them available to anyone in fear of any "act of violence,
force or threat." Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the bill into
law after unanimous approval from the state's General Assembly.
Virginia law defines an "act of violence, force, or threat" as "any act
involving violence, force, or threat that results in bodily injury or
places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual assault, or bodily
injury. Such act includes, but is not limited to, any forceful detention,
stalking, criminal sexual assault ... or any criminal offense that results
in bodily injury or places one in reasonable apprehension of death, sexual
assault, or bodily injury."
This broad definition grants greater protections than many other states,
allowing nearly anyone to obtain a protective order. However, there are
concerns about the Virginia court system's ability to process the
number of applications. For example, Fairfax County, Virginia, processed
three times more protective requests in 2011 than in 2010.
While most requests are legitimate, some are purely frivolous, which many
blame on the statute's broad language.
Three Types of Protective Orders
Virginia law provides for three types of protective orders, which last
for varying time durations. Emergency protective orders are available
outside of regular courthouse hours and are effective for either 72 hours
or until the court is next is session. The request is usually made orally
and the person against whom the order is sought need not be present before
the judge for the order to issue. However, the order is not effective
until that person is personally served with the order.
Preliminary protective orders are made in writing and during regular courthouse
hours. A preliminary order is the first step in obtaining a permanent
order and requires an allegation of a recent "act of violence, force,
or threat" or that an arrest warrant for such behavior has been issued.
Like an emergency order, the abuser need not be present for the order
to be granted, but it is only valid for approximately 15 days, when a
full court hearing is set to decide if a permanent order is appropriate.
The Virginia judicial system has tried to simplify and expedite the application
process by creating the free I-Can program, which is an online system
to help petitioners obtain preliminary protective orders. The website
provides guidance as to which Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court (for
situations involving juveniles, or family or household members) or General
District Court (for all other situations) the petitioner should file the
application, along with the necessary forms.
A judge will weigh the allegations and the evidence at the full court hearing
to decide if he or she will issue a permanent protective order. The person
against whom the order is being sought must be personally served notice
of this hearing and he or she must be present to allow him or her to contest
the allegations. A permanent order can last as long as two years and can
be extended for an additional two years if the court finds it necessary.
Family Abuse Protective Orders
domestic-violence situation, a court can issue a "family abuse" protective order. While
any protective order can prohibit contact of any kind, additional threats
and acts of violence, as well as any other necessary conditions,
family abuse orders can go further by requiring an abuser to do the following:
- Maintain utility services for the home
- Provide appropriate alternative housing
- Allow temporary use of a jointly owned vehicle
- Participate in treatment and counseling
- Provide appropriate child support
- Consider parent-child visitation issues
- Address any other necessary matter
While Yeardley Love's death was a horrible and unnecessary tragedy,
the silver lining is that Virginia law now provides greater protection
to those facing acts of "violence, force, or threat."
However, if you or a loved one is unfairly the target of a petition for
a protective order,
contact an experienced Virginia Beach criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation and your options.