Abusers often seek restraining orders to further abuse or control survivors. When the trial court is deciding mutual requests for restraining orders, they cannot enter mutual restraining orders without first deciding that both parties are primary aggressors within the relationship, and that neither of them were acting in self-defense. The reason for this rule is that mutual domestic violence is very rare, and wrongful mutual restraining orders put the real victim of abuse at risk.
In FVAP’s K.L v. R.H. case, the Court of Appeal explained that the trial court made an error by considering the parties’ allegations separately. Instead, the trial court should weigh the acts of the parties against each other to decide which person was the most significant aggressor in the relationship, and whether either of them acted in self defense. In considering the case this way, the Court of Appeal rightly ruled that the opposing party was the most significant aggressor, and only he should have been restrained.
The trial court also made an error by relying on the survivor’s previous criminal conviction to issue a mutual restraining order against her because it was irrelevant since it did not relate to domestic violence or other serious violence. Particularly for Black women, like the survivor in this case, overpolicing and racial stereotypes result in criminal convictions. The limitations on what kinds of convictions can be used in domestic violence restraining order cases ensures that this racial bias doesn’t also result in wrongful mutual restraining orders.
FVAP litigated this case in collaboration with pro-bono co-counsel, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, UCI School of Law Domestic Violence Clinic, and Legal Aid SoCal. The Court of Appeal then granted our request for publication.