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Will a Restraining Order Show Up in a Background Check?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | May 17, 2024

If you are facing accusations of domestic violence in California, you face a high probability of being served with a restraining order. This legal measure protects the victim by legally limiting the accused's actions.

If this happens, it can raise a slew of questions, including whether or not the restraining order is a matter of public record and how it might impact a background check.

Will a Restraining Order Show Up in a Background Check?
A restraining order in California might sometimes appear on a background check.

While a restraining order is a civil action and does not constitute a criminal charge in itself, it is a public court record. Thus, depending on the conditions and the type of check being done, restraining orders may sometimes (but not always) appear in a background check.

Restraining orders, commonly known as protective, no-contact, and stay-away orders, are issued when the court decides that an individual must not have any contact with another person. They are typically connected to a domestic violence case.

If someone, such as a spouse, has inflicted injury, threatened to cause injury, stalked, harassed, or even annoyed another individual, the court can issue a restraining order to restrict any contact.

A typical example would be in a domestic battery when the husband may have caused injury to his wife during an argument. The restraining order is not a criminal offense; if an individual violates it, they could face a misdemeanor charge.

The most common types of restraining orders in Los Angeles County are civil harassment restraining orders and domestic violence restraining orders. Civil harassment orders can be used for a wide variety of situations, such as when someone is threatening you, acting violently towards you, or harassing you.

Domestic violence restraining orders are used in domestic situations in which the accused is acting violently, making threats, harassing, and stalking. Let's go into more detail about how restraining orders are reported and under what conditions you might see them appear in a background check.

What is a Restraining Order?

A restraining order, also known as a protective order, is a court order issued to prevent an individual from committing further acts of violence or harassment against a victim.

In the context of domestic violence, it aims to protect the victim by restricting the accused's behavior, which might include prohibiting contact with the victim, mandating a certain distance be maintained from the victim's home or workplace, or even removing the accused from a shared residence.

In California, the main types of restraining orders include:

  • Emergency Protective Orders (EPOs): Issued by law enforcement or judges in urgent situations, generally lasting up to seven days.
  • Temporary Restraining Orders (TROs): These are issued by the court upon a victim's request and last until a hearing determines whether a permanent order is warranted.
  • Permanent Restraining Orders: Can last up to five years following a court hearing.
  • Criminal Protective Orders (CPOs): Automatically issued in domestic violence cases the district attorney prosecutes.

Other types of restraining orders include elder abuse restraining orders and workplace violence restraining orders. A violation of these orders could result in a contempt of court under California Penal Code 166 PC.

California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS)

As noted, these protective orders can be issued in an emergency and can be temporary or permanent restraining orders.

Violating a protective order, restraining, or stay-away order under Penal Code 273.6 PC has steeper penalties than other types of criminal contempt. In other words, PC 273.6 makes it a crime for anyone to violate the terms of a court-ordered protective order, restraining order, or stay-away order.

PC 273.6 says, "(a) Any intentional and knowing violation of a protective order, as defined in Section 6218 of the Family Code, or an order issued pursuant to Section 527.6, 527.8, or 527.85 of the Code of Civil Procedure, or Section 15657.03 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment."

What is the Reporting of Restraining Orders?

In California, restraining orders are entered into a statewide database called the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS).

This system ensures that law enforcement agencies across the state have immediate access to the details of a restraining order, thereby facilitating quick enforcement.

The CLETS does not directly interact with public databases or commercial background check services; however, a restraining order could still influence background checks through other channels.

For example, if an arrest were made related to the domestic violence incident that led to the restraining order, this arrest record would likely appear in most background checks.

What is the Impact of Restraining Orders on Background Checks?

Whether a restraining order shows up on a background check in California largely depends on the type of check conducted. As noted earlier, a restraining order does not constitute a criminal conviction because it is a civil order; however, violating it can result in criminal charges.

Thus, basic background checks (such as those used by most employers) will typically not reveal a restraining order unless you were convicted of violating that order.

However, more comprehensive checks, particularly those that require security clearance or involve positions of trust or responsibility, may unearth restraining orders through detailed judicial records searches.

Additionally, specific federal regulations require the disclosure of restraining orders, especially for positions related to law enforcement, education, and childcare. In these instances, employers may use specialized background checks, including searches for civil court orders such as restraining orders.

Situations in Which a Restraining Order is Unlikely to Appear

  • Basic Criminal Background Checks: Many entry-level jobs only require basic background checks focusing on criminal convictions. In these cases, a restraining order alone, without any accompanying criminal charges, will likely not appear.
  • Expired Temporary Restraining Orders: If you're served with an ERO or TRO that is allowed to expire and is not converted to a permanent restraining order, these are removed from your record when they expire and will likely not appear.
  • Jurisdictional Limitations: Some background checks may only cover records within a specific jurisdiction, potentially omitting out-of-state restraining orders unless entered into national databases.

Situations in Which a Restraining Order is More Likely to Appear

  • If the Restraining Order is Violated: If you violate the terms of a restraining order and are convicted of a violation, it will likely show up on any criminal background check.
  • Comprehensive Screenings: Positions requiring a high level of security clearance or trust may involve more thorough screenings, which could reveal restraining orders even if they are not tied to criminal activity.
  • Federal Regulations: Jobs that fall under federal regulations mandating the disclosure of such orders will necessitate checks that include looking for restraining orders explicitly.
  • Landlord Background Checks: If a landlord goes deeper than a basic criminal background check and requests civil court orders from the courthouse, they may discover the restraining order.

Contact our California criminal defense lawyers for more information. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, CA.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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