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The Criminal Process is not an Adequate Substitute for a PPO

MPLP Winter 2007 Family Law Section Newsletter Article

                Issue 32, Winter 2007

The Criminal Process is not an Adequate
Substitute for a Personal Protection Order

by Julian R. Williams,MPLP Law Clerk


In order to fully protect victims of domestic violence a Personal Protection Order (PPO) must be available as a remedy even if there is a concurrent criminal case. There are many distinct advantages to a PPO separate from criminal orders, including bond and probation orders, where a judge would order that the defendant have no contact with the victim. A PPO is a civil order that is designed to prevent violent and harassing behavior and to protect the victims and their families from their abuser. A PPO allows the victim to shape the remedy that is necessary and frame the best protective measures.  In addition, a PPO provides a wider range of protections and is within the control of the victim, not the prosecutor.  This issue deserves discussion here in Michigan due to the prevalence of domestic violence and the fact that historically, the legal system has failed to take domestic violence seriously.

This issue arose recently in a case on appeal to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia where a victim's petition for a protection order was dismissed by the trial court because there was a concurrent criminal case.  An amicus brief has been filed on behalf of the appellant in Murphy v. Okeke (Docket No. 04-FM-000579).  

In this case, appellant argues for reversal of the decision of the trial court denying the appellant a civil protection order (CPO). The trial judge ruled that the appellant should have never pursued her CPO because of the separate criminal case against her ex-husband, stating "Quite frankly, we wouldn’t be here today if things had ended at the criminal trial … there doesn’t need to be an independent pursuit of an effort for a Civil Protection Order when the criminal cases can often times achieve the same results." 

Further, appellant argues that there is a strong rationale in having the civil process be distinct from the criminal process in order to provide battered women with additional resources for their protection and that the D.C. Intra family Offenses Act (IFO) was designed to protect and empower victims of abuse to give them the ability to shape the remedies that they would receive.

The IFO in D.C. is the equivalent to the Domestic Violence and PPO statute here in Michigan. MCL 600.2950 and its predecessors were created on the premise that civil sanctions as well as criminal sanctions should be available to victims of domestic violence or stalking. As a result the PPO statute and anti-stalking laws serve as an added resource to empower and protect victims.

 The judge in the Murphy case did not take into account that PPO’s give victims the ability to be represented by their own advocates (or themselves) in court, to shape their own arguments and craft their own request for remedies specific to the individual circumstances. It is important that judges and advocates in the state remember this is an important aspect of furthering justice for victims that is not necessarily a part of the criminal prosecution process.

This case highlights the importance for Michigan courts to make clear the distinction between the criminal and civil processes, highlighting that the processes are distinct from one another and serve different purposes.

            PPO’s are necessary even after criminal trials due to the limitations of the criminal justice process to address domestic violence. Because of this, civil remedies such as those outlined in the Michigan PPO statutes are critical in to the victim's interests, providing future protection, and autonomy to seek legal protection. The notion that criminal cases achieve the same results of a PPO is at odds with the purpose and judicial and legislative intent of anti-domestic violence and stalking laws, which strives to create a parallel civil remedy for conduct that also violates criminal laws.





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