Recently, the Texas State Legislature passed House Bill (HB) 629 —also known as Monica’s Law—to combat domestic violence. The law went into effect on September 1, 2019, creating an online public database for family violence protective orders issued by Texas courts.
HB 629 was named after Monica Deming, who was murdered in 2015 in an incident involving domestic violence. Monica’s abusive ex-boyfriend shot and killed her, despite the fact that courts had previously issued two protective orders against him, which he was able to keep secret from Monica and others.
The bill’s sponsor, Representative Brooks Landgraf, introduced Monica’s Law at the behest of Jon Nielsen, the father of the bill’s namesake and a former police officer from Odessa. Nielsen said that he and his daughter would have known about her ex-boyfriend’s history of domestic violence if the protective orders were registered in a publicly accessible online database.
In a press release regarding the successful passage of Monica’s Law, Representative Landgraf said, “I am proud my colleagues in the legislature agreed with me that having this tool will make a real difference in people's lives.”
What Is a Family Violence Protective Order?
Title 4 of the Texas Family Code allows courts to issue protective orders to restrain violence committed between family or household members. A family violence protective order is available to help victims escape abusive relationships even though a related divorce action has not been filed.
Texas Family Code § 71.004 defines family violence to mean the following:
- “an act by a member of a family or household against another member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault or that is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, assault, or sexual assault, but does not include defensive measures to protect oneself;
- abuse…by a member of a family or household toward a child of the family or household; or
- dating violence, as that term is defined by Section 71.0021.”
Significantly, the definition of family violence also includes acts of abuse committed between individuals who are not married or otherwise closely related. Under Texas Family Code § 71.0021, the term dating violence means an act committed against a victim subject of a protective order, with whom the alleged abuser had been dating in a romantic or intimate relationship.
Texas Family Code § 81.001 requires courts to issue a protective order if it finds that “family violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future.”
A family violence protective order can legally restrain an abuser from engaging in the following acts:
- Committing family violence
- Threatening or harassing a victim or any other person protected by the order
- Communicating in any manner with the person protected by the order, upon a finding of good cause
- Visiting the home, work, or business of the person protected by the order
- Stalking, annoying, alarming, abusing, tormenting or embarrassing the protected person
- Possessing a firearm
- Threatening or harming the pet or companion animal of the protected person
Information in the Protective Order Registry
Monica’s Law adds several provisions to Chapter 72 of the Texas Government Code concerning public access to the new protective order registry.
Under Texas Government Code § 72.154, the public will have access to the following information with regard to a protective order:
- The issuing court
- The case number
- The full name, county of residence, year of birth, race, and ethnicity of the person subject to the order
- The date of issuance and service
- If vacated, the date of the order’s vacation
- The order’s date of expiration
Consequences of Violating a Protective Order
In general, a person who violates the terms of a family violence protective order is guilty of committing a Class A misdemeanor. However, the violation of a protective order constitutes a third-degree felony for subsequent protective order violations, or if the defendant’s initial violation of the order involved stalking or committing an assault.
For More Information, Contact Coker, Robb & Cannon
If you have questions or concerns regarding your rights and responsibilities regarding family violence protective orders and the new protective order registry under Monica’s Law, you should seek the legal counsel of an experienced attorney from Coker, Robb & Cannon, Family Lawyers.
Please call us at (940) 293-2313 or contact our office online to schedule an initial consultation exploring the merits of your case today.