How much evidence is enough evidence for a judge to grant a domestic violence injunction?
Domestic Violence Injunctions (DVI) appear to be the most abused pleading of the Court these days. First, in order to file a domestic violence injunction, there must be a DOMESTIC relationship – like boyfriend and girlfriend who live together or have a child in common, husband and wife, or other people who live in the same household. Domestic Violence Injunctions do not apply to your neighbor, your spouse’s ex, your significant other’s ex, or someone you work with. Those are called Repeat Violence Injunctions and require at lease two acts of violence or threats of imminent harm. If you have a question about that, please call me.
Many times, I see people in court who are not victims of violence, but rather victims of horribly annoying behavior by the other party. In order for a judge to grant a domestic violence injunction, the behavior needs to be more than “mere uncivil behavior that causes distress or annoyance.” See Power v. Boyle, 60 So. 3d 496 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011), but rather must place a person in fear of imminent harm. In a recent DCA case out of the First District, a circuit court judge granted a domestic violence injunction against a wife who used her husband’s email password to access his account, then used the personal information found in those emails to further her cause in a divorce case. She also changed his password so he could no longer access his own email. But the District Court said that behavior did not rise to the level of “stalking” or “cyberstalking” because it wasn’t the wife’s “own words” used to harass the soon to be ex-husband. In other words, had she written him harassing or threatening emails, or used his account and sent emails pretending to be him – it may have been enough. But merely changing the password and using his own emails against him was not enough to meet the threshold of evidence required for a domestic violence injunction.
So back to the original question, what is enough? Often, it depends on the judge who hears the case. The judge is the ultimate fact finder and unless clearly wrong, an appellate court usually will not overturn the trial judge’s decision. (Note there are many legal standards on appeal, and they vary depending on circumstances and whether the case is civil or criminal) Acts of physical violence are usually enough. Threats to harm a person, that could reasonably be carried out, are usually enough. Harming a family pet, threats with weapons, abuse to a child who lives in the home – are all usually enough. Harassing and annoying behavior, sometimes is not enough.
The best thing to do if you are planning to file a DVI is to either hire a lawyer to represent you, and/or talk to an advocate in your local domestic violence shelter. The advocates are in court every day and sometimes they have better insight into a particular judge or set of facts than many of the lawyers. If someone has filed a DVI against you, you definitely need representation by a lawyer.