Defendant and her husband were found in contempt of court for violating a personal protection order (PPO) entered against them by Defendant’s sister-in-law (the “complainant”), who was married to Defendant’s brother.  Defendant’s brother had been granted guardianship over Defendant’s 14-year-old son as a result of neglect proceedings involving the boy.  On the day in question, Defendant and her husband were in court on a show cause hearing against Defendant’s brother-in-law for his violating a visitation order allowing Defendant visitation with her son.   The complainant was present at the courthouse just to show her support to her husband, Defendant’s brother.  However, at court a confrontation broke out when Defendant saw the complainant. 


The testimony conflicted regarding who started the confrontation.   The complainant testified that when Defendant saw her, Defendant started shouting at her and using profanities against her.  Defendant testified that at no time did she approach, confront, or use profanities against the complainant.  The trial court believed complainant, and found that Defendant had violated the PPO’s provision that she was not to approach or confront the complainant in a public place.   On appeal, Defendant claimed that  the holder of a PPO should not be able to use it as a sword instead of a shield.  In other words, Defendant argued that the holder of a PPO should not be able to interject herself in a place where the defendant would be, and then claim a violation of the PPO if a confrontation develops.  The Court of Appeals disagreed with  Defendant, holding that the holder of a PPO is under no obligation to behave in a certain way or to avoid certain places.  In determining whether there has been a violation of a PPO, the focus is to be only on the individual against whom the PPO is entered, not on the complainant. 

What this Means for PPO Holders: 

The holder of a Personal Protection Order does not have to worry about avoiding places where the defendant is likely to be.  The holder of a PPO does not have to change his or her behavior or patterns.   If a person  has a PPO against him or her,  it is only his or her behavior that is looked at in a contempt proceeding.   The focus is solely on the behavior of the defendant, not on whether the complainant somehow precipitated contact.

You can view the entire opinion here

Authored by Barbara A. Assendelft