If you have paid any attention to the news lately then you probably already know that actor Charlie Sheen was fired. Both tabloids and mainstream news outlets have reported that he was terminated from the show “Two and a Half Men,” effective immediately. The decision by Warner Brothers comes as little surprise to most, after his highly publicized personal and legal troubles, reports about his “goddesses,” his “warlock” powers, and his “tiger blood,” a stint in rehab that postponed filming of the show, and the public feud between the actor and the show’s creator, Chuck Lorre. You may also know that Sheen’s former wife Brooke Mueller filed for and obtained a Temporary Restraining Order which prohibits Sheen from coming within 100 feet of either her or the parties’ twin sons, and which resulted in the police arriving on his doorstep within hours of the filing in order to take the children from his care.
Domestic violence is an extremely serious issue, and the courts have created a mechanism to secure immediate protection for children, family members, and other close relations. As happened in Sheen’s case, such protection can be granted on a temporary basis without any input at all from the abusive party.
The laws regarding Domestic Violence Civil Protection Orders have been carefully drafted in order to balance the alleged abuser’s constitutional due process rights against the more pressing need to protect children and other household and family members from physical harm. The process is playing out in Sheen’s case just as it does in courtrooms throughout the county, and this is a real teaching moment.
First, Mueller, as the petitioner, was required to show the hearing officer why she was in immediate fear for the safety of herself and her children. A copy of the petition is available here. Mueller’s petition tells of a long history of violence on Sheen’s part, violence that most recently culminated in him punching her, pulling a knife on her, threatening to stab her in the eye, and, even more disturbingly, threatening to cut off her head and send it in a box to her mother.
The immediate safety of the parties is paramount, and courts take such testimony regarding abuse very seriously. Based upon this testimony of Mueller, the Los Angeles Superior Court granted a temporary restraining order which will remain in effect until the parties have a full hearing on the matter. At the full hearing, presently scheduled for March 22, 2011, Sheen will have the opportunity to present his side of the story to the court, and the court will determine whether the temporary order should remain in effect for a longer period, often up to a period of years.
Ohio law differs slightly from the law of California, but the process is the same. At the first hearing, also known as the ex parte hearing, the hearing officer will consider the evidence of the individual, or the “petitioner,” seeking the order. The petitioner might be any of a number of people with a close relation to the alleged abuser, including a parent, child, spouse, former spouse, other household member, or even someone with whom the alleged abuser has a child, and the petitioner can seek protection on behalf of other household members. At this initial ex parte hearing the court will grant a temporary restraining order if the hearing officer finds an immediate and present danger of domestic violence. Domestic violence is not mere arguing or yelling. Domestic violence generally is defined as causing or attempting to cause bodily injury, child abuse, sexually oriented offenses, or causing a real fear of imminent serious physical harm.
If a temporary restraining order is granted at the ex parte hearing, the alleged abuser, or “respondent,” is entitled to a full hearing within seven to ten days. At the full hearing the respondent will have the opportunity to present evidence in his or her defense. After considering all evidence presented by both sides, the hearing officer will determine if a more permanent protection order is warranted. A Civil Protection Order may generally be granted for a period of up to five years. An individual who violates a Civil Protection Order may face jail time for contempt of court, and potentially criminal prosecution.
In Sheen’s case, only time will tell what evidence he will present in his defense and whether that evidence will be sufficient to convince the court that a longer term Domestic Violence Protection Order is not necessary. But for the time being, at least, Sheen’s bizarre, abusive and violent behavior was enough to bring the police to his home to take his children away and to prevent him from having any contact at all with the twins for at least the next few weeks.