Penal Code 273.6 PC - Violating a Restraining or Protective Order

Penal Code 273.6 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to violate the terms or conditions of a restraining order (sometimes interchangeably referred to as a "protective order").1 This occurs when the judge issues a legal restraining order and you intentionally ignore the terms of that order. Specifically, this section states that:

"Any intentional and knowing violation of a protective 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."


  • The protective order states that you must not contact your ex-boyfriend, yet you continue to send him e-mails and texts
  • The restraining order states that you may not use force or violence upon your wife, yet you grab her and threaten to break her legs if she doesn't seek to have the order terminated
  • The protective order states that you may not own or possess any firearms during the length of the order, yet you fail to relinquish your gun to the proper authorities
  • The restraining order states that you must stay away from your family home, yet you slash your wife's tires while her car is in the driveway


The good news is that a number of legal defenses apply to a PC 273.6 charge.  Some of these include:

  • the judge didn't legally issue the protective order
  • you didn't know about the restraining order
  • you didn't intentionally violate the order
  • you were falsely accused of violating the protective order

Penal Code 273.6 Penalties

If you are convicted of violating a California restraining order, the penalties vary quite a bit depending on

  1. whether it's your first or subsequent violation, and
  2. whether the victim suffered a physical injury.

The penalties may include up to three years in the California state prison for a felony, and up to one year in a county jail for a misdemeanor.  In addition, you could face

  • court fines and penalties,
  • victim restitution for any counseling and/or medical services that the victim reasonably incurred in connection with the offense,
  • counseling services, and
  • the relinquishment of any firearms and the inability to acquire any new ones for the length of the protective order.2

In this article, our California criminal defense attorneys3 explain Penal Code 273.6 PC California's law regarding violating a restraining or protective order by addressing the following:

If, after reading this article, you would like more information, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.

Penal Code 273.6 PC judge restraining order
Penal Code 273.6 PC is the California statute that makes it a crime to violate the terms or conditions of a restraining order

1. What is a Protective / Restraining Order?

Generally speaking, a protective order is a court order that is designed to protect a person from

  • harassment,
  • physical abuse,
  • stalking, or
  • threats

by the person named in the order.  The exact order will dictate exactly what type of behavior is or is not prohibited but will likely include provisions that the restrained party refrain from any type of contact with the protected individual. "Contact" generally includes

  • personal contact (that is, coming within a certain distance of that person),
  • phone calls or text messages,
  • e-mails,
  • interaction on social networking sites such as Facebook, or
  • any type of surveillance.4

1.1. Types of Restraining Orders

There are essentially four types of California protective orders that the courts will issue:

  1. domestic violence restraining orders (issued to protect individuals from abuse suffered at the hands of someone with whom that person shares an "intimate" relationship),
  2. civil harassment restraining orders (issued to protect from people who do not qualify as "intimate partners" such as neighbors, co-workers and other people with whom you are not close),
  3. elder or dependent adult abuse restraining orders (issued to protect elders...those who are 65 and older...and those who are between 18 and 64 who suffer from certain disabilities from physical, emotional and financial abuse and/or neglect), and
  4. workplace violence restraining orders (requested by an employer to protect an employee from violence or threatened violence in the workplace).

1.2. Levels of protection - Emergency Protective Orders "EPOs", Temporary Restraining Orders "TROs" and Permanent Protective Orders "PPOs"

There are three levels of protection within each of the above protective orders:

1) Emergency Protective Orders (EPO) -

Emergency Protective Orders are just that - issued in an emergency.  These types of orders are most frequently requested by the police when they respond to a domestic violence call.  If the officer suspects that someone is in danger, he/she will call an "on-call" judge to issue the order.

The officer informs the offender, if present, about the order which takes effect immediately.  An EPO is good for up to seven (7) days.  Beyond that, you will need to go to the court to request a temporary or permanent order.5

2) Temporary Restraining Orders (TRO) -

Temporary Restraining Orders typically last for up to two (2) or three (3) weeks.  You ask the court to issue a TRO when

(a) your emergency protective order expires, or
(b) you are the victim of harassment.

For purposes of California protective orders, "harassment" refers to

  • unlawful violence (or a credible threat of unlawful violence),
  • behavior that seriously alarms or annoys another person that serves no legitimate purpose, and
  • behavior that would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress and that actually does cause emotional distress to the victim.6

Before the TRO expires, the court will generally hold a hearing to determine if it should issue a permanent restraining order.7

3) Permanent Restraining Orders (PRO) -

The court will issue a permanent restraining order if it believes...after conducting a hearing...that the person applying for the order needs extended protection.  The judge will hear from both the applicant and the person who would be restrained by the order in order to determine

a) whether to issue the order,
b) the types of restrictions to include in the order, and
c) the length of the order.

PROs may last for up to three (3) years (∗and can be extended if necessary) and may include orders that the restrained individual

  • leave the home and secure a new residence,
  • refrain from having any contact (this includes personal contact, telephone contact and communication by any other electronic means) with the protected parties (which may include a partner/spouse, child, pet, etc.),
  • maintain a certain distance from the protected party/parties,
  • turn in any weapons that he/she possesses (and not acquire any new ones), and possibly
  • pay the attorney's fees of the party seeking the restraining order.8

If you are the person seeking a protective order, the courts will not require that you have an attorney. But having one is strongly advised.  The paperwork and deadlines that are involved in securing a protective order may be overwhelming and complex.  As a result, if you want to ensure that you receive the protection you're looking for, you should contact a skilled California attorney to help with the process.

Similarly, if you wish to contest a protective order, you may want to hire an attorney to challenge its validity on your behalf.  Experienced lawyers know the types of legal arguments that are likely to persuade a judge that the restrictions imposed by a protective order are unreasonable and/or unnecessary.

2. Penal Code 273.6 PC Violating a California Protective Order

If you are the "restrained" person who is the subject of a restraining or protective order...and you do not adhere to the terms and conditions contained in the order...prosecutors may charge you with violating a protective order under Penal Code 273.6 PC.9

In order to convict you of violating a restraining order...sometimes alternatively referred to as "contempt of court"...the prosecutor must prove the following facts (otherwise known as "elements" of the crime):

  1. the judge issued a legal protective order,
  2. you knew about the order, and
  3. you intentionally violated that order.10

Let's take a closer look at each of these elements in order to better understand their meanings.

2.1. Legal protective orders

If the judge orders a legal protective order against you, the law requires you to follow it - period.

However, some restraining orders are illegally issued. This could be because the order was issued in a court that didn't have the proper authority to do so (a power known as jurisdiction) or because there was no legal basis to issue the order. If the protective order itself is illegal, you are not bound by its terms.

California courts have held that "an order of contempt [that is, disobeying a court order] cannot stand if the underlying order is invalid."11

But as Ventura criminal defense attorney John Murray12 explains, "If you believe a restraining order is invalid, we advise that you first consult with an experienced California lawyer who can help challenge it before you are arrested for violating it.  It's much easier to present a persuasive case before you are accused of failing to comply with a judge's orders."

2.2. Knowledge about the restraining order

Before you can be convicted of violating a restraining order, the prosecutor must prove that you knew about the protective order.  This includes having had an opportunity to read the order (even if you didn't actually do so).13

California law is very specific about what are known as "notice" requirements.  A person named in a restraining order must be given notice that his/her liberties are being restricted.  This notice may be served

  • orally by the judge if the person to be restrained is present in court,
  • in writing by a third-party (which could include a police officer) who personally presents the order to the person named in the order, or
  • verbally by an officer who has been called to enforce the order when that officer determines that the named party was otherwise unaware of the order's existence.14

2.3. Intentional violations

If you know that the court has issued a legal restraining order...and intentionally choose to ignore commit the crime of violating a protective order.

This means that if, for example, you are prohibited from contacting your ex-girlfriend...yet you send her flowers as a sign that you are are intentionally violating the order. You were specifically ordered not to contact her and willfully violated that order.

However, if you were told to maintain a certain distance from your ex...but, for example, you accidentally bumped into her in the supermarket or at a have not intentionally violated that order.

In a situation such as this, you would need to demonstrate that you promptly left the area and/or didn't try to communicate with her once you noticed her presence.

3. Legal Defenses to PC 273.6

Fortunately, a variety of California legal defenses apply to Penal Code 273.6 PC California's law against violating a restraining order. A skilled California defense lawyer could assert these on your behalf.  The following are some examples:

3.1. Lack of knowledge

If you didn't know about the protective order, you can't be convicted of intentionally violating it.  Clearly, this defense has a better shot of working if you were not present in court at the time the judge issued the order or present at the scene when a law enforcement officer told the victim that he/she received the okay for the emergency protective order.

But if you can demonstrate that you never received notice that a California restraining order got issued against you...perhaps it was sent to the wrong address or mistakenly presented to the wrong should not be held responsible for violating the order.

3.2. Lack of intent

And even if you did know that a judge issued a protective order against you...but you didn't realize that you were in violation of that still shouldn't be held criminally responsible for violating that order.

This would be the case if you accidentally violate its terms (for example, you unwittingly run into the protected person in public or at a social function).

But note this caveat:  Even if the protected party contacts you and tells you he/she wants to see you to reconcile, you cannot comply.  The judge is the only person who can lift the terms of an order.  So even if you honestly believe the victim no longer wishes to enforce the order...and therefore you do not believe you are intentionally violating that must nevertheless comply with its terms until the protected party contacts the judge and the judge actually terminates the order.

Similarly, even if you believe the restraining order was inappropriately ordered...for example, because it was based on an exaggerated, overblown must still comply with its orders.  The failure to do so subjects you to charges for violating Penal Code 273.6.

3.3. False allegations

In the proceeding section we said that even if the protected party contacts you and tells you he/she wants to see you to reconcile, you cannot comply with that request as long as there is an order restraining you from doing so.

This is not only because it is against the law to violate the terms of that order but also because it sets the stage for you to be "set up" by the protected party.  If he/she can get you to engage in contact or to violate the order in some way, he/she can then contact the police and have you arrested for this crime.

And, on that note, the protected party can claim that you have violated the order when you never did so. The person can flat out lie.  He/she could claim that you are
stalking him/her by following him/her, calling and hanging up, or doing any number of acts that don't require physical proof.  Anger, jealousy, revenge and/or custody battles often provide the motivation for these types of false accusations.

But do not despair. As former police investigators and district attorneys, we know how to investigate cases in order to expose false allegations for what they really are and to prove that you are innocent of the charge(s).

4. Penalties, Punishment and Sentencing for Violating a California Restraining Order

Penal Code 273.6 PC is typically a California misdemeanor. If you are convicted of violating a protective order, you face a maximum $1,000 fine and up to one year in a county jail.

Moreover, a judge who grants probation has the discretion to order relevant terms of probation such as:

  • mandatory counseling, including anger management, domestic violence classes, substance abuse classes, etc.,
  • payments to a battered women's shelter, and/or
  • restitution to the victim for any counseling or medical expenses that were reasonably incurred as a result of the offense.15

If this is your second conviction for violating a protective order within a seven-year period...and the violation involves an act of violence or a credible threat of violence...the offense becomes a California wobbler. This means the prosecutor could file the Penal Code 273.6 PC charge as: violating your California restraining order...the protected party suffers a physical injury, you face a statutory minimum of at least 30 days in the county jail.

If this is your second conviction for violating a protective order within one-year...and the victim suffers a physical injury...the offense becomes a wobbler punishable by either:

  • six months to one year of jail for a misdemeanor, or
  • in the case of a felony, (a) probation and up to a year county jail, or (b) 16 months or two or three years in county jail.

While the minimum 30-day and six-month sentences that apply to violations that involve physical injury are supposed to be mandatory, they do not have to be.16

If you serve a minimum of 48 hours in jail on the 30-day sentence or a minimum of 30 days on the six-month sentence, a judge has the discretion to stay the balance of the custody time. In an effort to persuade a judge to do this, a criminal defense lawyer will want to:

  • present mitigating factors on your behalf,
  • explain that you are remorseful and understand that you must allow the protected party to regain a sense of security, and
  • present evidence that you are in the process of successfully completing your counseling.

4.1. Regarding firearms

It is against the law to own, possess, purchase or otherwise acquire a gun or other firearms while you have a restraining order in effect against you.  These restrictions will appear on the face of the California protective order along with instructions either to

  • relinquish your weapons to a local law enforcement agency, or
  • sell them to a licensed gun dealer.

If you nevertheless knowingly own or possess a firearm during this timeframe, you face a misdemeanor, punishable by up to $1,000 and a maximum one-year county jail sentence.

If you purchase, receive or attempt to purchase or receive a gun during this timeframe, you face a wobbler, punishable in the same manner for the misdemeanor, or by the same fine and up to three years in the state prison for a felony.17

5. Related Offenses

There are a number of crimes that are related to Penal Code 273.6 PC, typically because the violation of the restraining order is either based on or triggers at least one of the others.  The following are some of the most common:

5.1. Domestic violence

You violate California's domestic violence laws when you threaten or harm an intimate partner.  "Intimate partners" may include

  • your current or former spouse,
  • a person with whom you live or have lived,
  • a person whom you are or were dating, and
  • the mother or father of your child.

When an officer is called to the scene of a domestic dispute, he/she often calls a judge for an emergency protective order.  And...depending on the circumstances...this EPO may turn into a TRO or even a permanent restraining order.

And many times, when someone violates a California restraining order, it is because he/she is committing or attempting to commit another act of domestic violence against the protected party.

5.2. Stalking

Penal Code 646.9 PC California's stalking law prohibits harassing or threatening another person to the point where that individual fears for his/her safety or the safety of his/her family.  If you violate this law, you face a wobbler, punishable by

  • a maximum $1,000 fine and up to one year in a county jail for a misdemeanor, or
  • up to three years in the California state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine for a felony.

You will also most likely have a California protective order issued against you.  And if you subsequently "stalk" the protected party once that order is in place, you face an automatic felony, punishable by up to four years in the state prison.18

Similarly, if you have been previously convicted of a felony for violating

you face a wobbler.  However, unlike the wobbler penalties noted above, the felony subjects you to up to five years in the state prison.19

It is also increasingly common for people to be charged with either cyber-stalking or Penal Code 653.2 PC indirect cyber-harassment.

Cyber-stalking is the same behavior as ordinary stalking, only committed over the internet or email. In contrast, indirect cyber-harassment consists of posting harmful information about someone on the internet or in an email message, with the intent to incite other people to harass or threaten him/her in person.

5.3. Criminal threats

Penal Code 422 PC California's criminal threats law prohibits threatening to kill or harm someone when that person reasonably fears that you immediately intend to execute that threat (regardless of whether or not you actually do).

Like the offenses above, if you make criminal threats, it will most likely result in the court issuing a protective order against you.  And similarly, if you continue to make these threats while under a restraining order, prosecutors will likely charge you with PC 273.6 as well as Penal Code 422 PC.

If you are convicted of making criminal threats, you face a wobbler.  The misdemeanor carries a maximum one-year county jail sentence and up to $1,000 in fines.  The felony carries up to three years in the state prison and is a strike under California three strikes law.20

5.4. Elder abuse

Penal Code 368 PC California's elder abuse laws protect seniors 65 and older from acts of neglect and/or physical, emotional, or financial abuse.  Violating these laws will likely result in having a restraining order issued against you.  And continuing the conduct once a restraining order is in place will result in a Penal Code 273.6 PC violation of a protective order as well as elder abuse charges.

Elder abuse is also a wobbler, punishable by up to one year in the county jail for a misdemeanor or by up to four years in the state prison for a felony.21

5.5. Vandalism

Penal Code 594 PC California's vandalism law prohibits defacing, damaging or destroying someone else's property.  This prohibition also applies to property that you share with someone else.

This means that if, for example, you slash your ex's tires...or even the tires of your wife's car that you own...while there is a California restraining order against you, prosecutors will likely charge you with violating Penal Code 273.6 PC and PC 594.

Vandalism is a wobbler that may be charged as an infraction, a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on

  1. the value of the vandalized property, and
  2. your criminal history.22

5.6. Penal Code 166 PC contempt of court

Finally, Penal Code 166 PC California's law against contempt of court is very closely related to PC 273.6.  In fact, both punish willful violations of a California protective order.  However, 166 PC is broader than 273.6 PC and prohibits a variety of other conduct that all falls under the umbrella of disobeying a judge's orders and/or acting inappropriately in court.

For example, "contempt of court" charges can apply to court orders that limit picketing activities and/or protest demonstrations.

Most first-time contempt of court violations under Penal Code 166 are misdemeanors, although ignoring gun-restrictions that are imposed in connection with a court order is a wobbler.

Call us for help...

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Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or loved one is charged with Penal Code 273.6 PC violation a restraining order and you are looking to hire an attorney for representation, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We have local offices in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Pasadena, Long Beach, Orange County, Ventura, San Bernardino, Rancho Cucamonga, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and throughout California.

Additionally, our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys are available to answer any questions about Nevada's laws regarding restraining or protective orders.  For more information, we invite you to contact our local attorneys at one of our Nevada law offices, located in Reno and Las Vegas.24

Online Resource:

California Courts: Self Help Center - Introduction to Restraining Orders

Legal References:

  1. Penal Code 273.6 PC -- Intentional and knowing violation of court protective order. 

  2. See same regarding penalties for violating a California restraining order.

  3. Our California criminal defense attorneys have local Los Angeles law offices in Beverly Hills, Burbank, Glendale, Lancaster, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Pomona, Torrance, Van Nuys, West Covina, and Whittier.  We have additional law offices conveniently located throughout the state in Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.

  4. California Code of Civil Procedure 527.6 -- Harassment; temporary restraining order and injunction; procedure; domestic violence; support person; costs and attorney fees; punishment.  

  5. California Penal Code 646.91 PC --  Stalking; emergency protective orders; issuance; expiration; service; filing; enforcement; liability; scope of section; punishment.  

  6. See California Code of Civil Procedure 527.6 -- Harassment; temporary restraining order and injunction; procedure; domestic violence; support person; costs and attorney fees; punishment, subdivision (b) endnote 4, above.

  7. See same, subdivision (d).

  8. See California Code of Civil Procedure 527.6 -- Harassment; temporary restraining order and injunction; procedure; domestic violence; support person; costs and attorney fees; punishment, endnote 4, above.

  9. See Penal Code 273.6 PC California's law against violating a protective order, endnote 1, above.

  10. The Judicial Council of California Advisory Committee on Criminal Jury Instructions "CALCRIM" 2701 - Violation of a California Protective Order.  

  11. People v. Gonzalez (1996) 12 Cal.4th 804, 816.

  12. Ventura criminal defense lawyer John Murray has successfully defended numerous clients charged with violating a restraining order under California Penal Code 273.6 PC.  Mr. Murray represents clients at the Ventura Hall of Justice, the Van Nuys courthouse, the Pasadena courthouse, the Burbank courthouse, the Glendale courthouse, the Lancaster courthouse, the San Fernando courthouse, and the Criminal Courts Building.

  13. People v. Brindley (1965) 236 Cal.App.2d Supp. 925, 927-928.  

  14. See California Code of Civil Procedure 527.6 -- Harassment; temporary restraining order and injunction; procedure; domestic violence; support person; costs and attorney fees; punishment, endnote 4, above.

  15. See Penal Code 273.6 PC California's law against violating a restraining order, endnote 1, above.

  16. See same.

  17. See same, subdivision (g).

    See also California Civil Code of Procedure 527.9 -- Relinquishment of firearms; persons subject to protective orders.  

  18. Penal Code 646.9 PC California's Stalking Law. 

  19. See same.

  20. California Penal Code 422 PC California's criminal threats law. 

  21. California Penal Code 368 PC -- Elder abuse.

  22. Penal Code 594 PC -- Vandalism; penalty.  

  23. Penal Code 166 PC -- Contempt of court; conduct constituting.  

  24. Please feel free to contact our Las Vegas Nevada criminal defense attorneys Michael Becker and Neil Shouse for any questions relating to Nevada's laws involving restraining or protective orders. Our Nevada law offices are located in Reno and Las Vegas.

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