In Florida, a victim of violence may obtain an injunction against the abuser. An injunction is a restraining order issued by the court prohibiting the abuser from coming within 500 feet of the victim. The request for an injunction is called the Petition, the person filing the injunction (victim) is called the Petitioner and the person against whom the Petition is filed (abuser) is called the Respondent. The injunction process is a civil matter, and although criminal acts are involved it is not a criminal proceeding. This means that the Petitioner represents themself or is represented by an attorney, but nobody goes to jail as a result of the hearing. But criminal charges may be filed in relation to the abuse.
In Florida, an injunction may be obtained in either one of four circumstances: 1) Domestic Violence 2) Repeat Violence 3) Sexual Violence and 4) Dating Violence.
Filing the for the Injunction
The injunction process begins with the Petitioner filing the Petition. A Petition should be filed with the Clerk of Court in the courthouse of your county. The Petition is a sworn statement that alleges facts which show that the Petitioner is either a victim of domestic violence, or there is a reasonable belief that he or she is in imminent danger of becoming a victim. This document is filed with the court and has two effects. First, it gives the judge a basis for issuing a temporary injunction that same day which allows protection before the hearing date. Second, it gives the Respondent notice of what the hearing will be about, so the Respondent has an opportunity to defend him or herself at the hearing.
Writing a Petition
It is very important to be specific in the Petition and make sure to include dates and time for every incident. When writing the statement make sure you include important details but try to be concise and to the point. For example, "May 2, 2011/12:00am, I came home after visiting a friend, Respondent started to argue with me about coming home late, he grabbed my arm and pushed me against the wall... April 23, 2011/ 3:00pm, Respondent (my boyfriend) and I were at a family picnic, R became drunk. When I asked him to go home he became angry and slapped me in the face."
Make sure to note as many incidents as you can, starting from the most recent ones.
After the Petition is Filed
The Petition is sent to the judge, the judge makes a preliminary determination about whether the statements made in the Petition justify a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). The judge will either issue a TRO or deny it; in either case a hearing will be set within 15 days of the filing. The information will be served on the Respondent, giving him or her notice of the hearing.
Preparing for the Hearing
The Petitioner should gather any information that pertains to the violence. The Petitioner should talk to people who witnessed the violence and ask them to testify at the hearing. The Petitioner should also obtain any photos, text messages, videos, and other evidence of the violence. To be organized at the hearing, the Petitioner should decide how he or she wants to present the evidence (in what order). Writing an outline will help tremendously during the hearing. For example, "(1)05/2/11 Incident- Witnesses: none Evidence: none, (2) 04/23/11/Incident - Witness: Mary Jones Evidence: Photos taken after by Mary Jones, Text Message from Respondent apologizing for slapping me."
Start by explaining to the judge what was the straw that broke the camel's back; what incident led you to file for the injunction.
During the Hearing
The hearing will involve three important parties 1) Petitioner 2) Respondent 3) the judge. The judge will give each side an opportunity to present their case and evidence and call witnesses if they have any. It is okay not to have witnesses. The judge will then make a ruling. It is important to keep calm and collected during the hearing. Give the Respondent a chance to speak without interrupting him or her. Refrain from making noises in reaction to the Respondent's testimony, even if everything the Respondent is saying is not true! The judge's most important job is to decide whose story is more believable, and your demeanor during the hearing has a lot of bearing on that determination.
After the Hearing
At the end of the hearing, the judge will make a ruling. If an injunction is issued, you should make sure to keep a copy of it with you at all times. If the Respondent approaches you, you should call the police and show them the document. If the injunction is issued and the Respondent still has personal items in your home, he or she can come to the house, with a police officer, to collect his or her things.
If the injunction is denied, and this happens often, do not despair. Take control of your safety and be proactive. Remember, if you are convinced that the Respondent is capable of hurting you, even an injunction cannot ensure your safety. Think about moving to an undisclosed location, changing your phone number, etc.