63.3 F

Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Watts Legal

Question: I’m scared of one of my neighbors. Everyday, the creeper hangs on a sign on my front door. It has his phone number, and he asks me to call him, calling me a “cutie” and saying he wants to be my “special friend.” I haven’t responded. He hasn’t said anything violent. If anything, it seems he likes me too much. Can I get a restraining order to make him stop, or does he have to threaten me first? Should I call the cops?

– Anonymous, Davis, CA

You can get a restraining order for all sorts of things. You can use it to stop violence, but also to stop people from harassing you. In other lawsuits, a court might issue a restraining order to stop the police from enforcing an unconstitutional law or to stop an execution of a prisoner. A restraining order is meant to preserve the status quo. It’s supposed to restrain a person from acting in a way that would substantially alter the relationship between you and the person you’re suing, causing you irreparable harm before a lawsuit even has a chance to get started. For a business dispute, that could mean a restraining order preventing the CEO from spending all the company’s money before the case gets to trial. In a domestic squabble, it could mean restraining a husband from beating his spouse to death before their divorce is finalized.

Of these several types of restraining orders, two might apply here.

The first type is a “domestic violence” restraining order, which is used to restrain family members, roommates or people you’re dating or used to date. The restrained person doesn’t have to be your spouse; any close relationship with the perpetrator is enough, if the person has committed unlawful violence against you. You can also restrain someone close to you if they’ve issued just a credible threat of violence or knowingly and willfully engaged in a course of conduct directed at you that seriously alarms, annoys or harasses you, as long as those things serve no legitimate purpose. For example, if they repeatedly phone you at 3 a.m. every night, that’s seriously annoying. But if they’re phoning to warn you because they see a burglar trying to break into your house at 3 a.m., the phone calls serve a legitimate purpose. There’s no master list of things that constitute a “legitimate” purpose. It’ll be up to the judge to decide.

Since you didn’t say whether you dated or are related to the stalker, it sounds like the second type of restraining order would apply. It’s called a civil harassment restraining order, and it’s used to prevent neighbors, strangers and regular friends or acquaintances from stalking or harassing you. Once again, “harassment” must consist of unlawful violence, a credible threat of violence or a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at you that seriously alarms, annoys or harasses you, and that serves no legitimate purpose.

A court can issue a civil harassment order if your stalker has engaged in any series of acts over a period of time — even a short period of time — that demonstrate a continuous purpose to harass you. Examples of conduct would include following you, stalking you, making harassing phone calls or sending harassing correspondence to you by any means, including electronic messages. The messages posted on your door would definitely qualify. For that matter, repeated emails, Twitter messages sent “@you” or Facebook messages could also qualify as harassing correspondence.

The messages have to be really annoying, though. They must be so annoying or disturbing that a reasonable person in your situation would feel substantial emotional distress. Not only that, but you yourself must have actually felt emotional distress. If you’re tougher than the average person and these messages didn’t really bother you, you can’t get a restraining order.

In addition, courts like to see that you’ve made a good faith effort to stop the harassment. Try hanging a poster saying, “No trespassing — do not hang posters here or I will call the police.” If he does anything else crazy — like sending you repeated text messages, calling you at 7 a.m. to accuse you of messing with his Facebook or sending you screenshots of disturbing emails he’s sent to your family to terrorize them — you’ll still probably need to show the court you took some steps to prevent the harassment. In these examples: Block him on Facebook, send a single text telling him “stop contacting me or I will get a restraining order” and don’t answer his calls. If you’ve done all that, you’ve got a good shot at getting a restraining order, which can last for up to three years. Violating the restraining order will get the stalker arrested and sent straight to jail if you call the police on him.

This should go without saying, but I want to be clear: if this guy ever threatens to hurt you, call the police before doing anything else. People are crazy.

More information on restraining orders are available at yolo.courts.ca.gov/RestrainingOrders/


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