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Legal Information: District of Columbia

Restraining Orders

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Updated: 
August 31, 2021

What is the legal definition of stalking in D.C.?

This section defines stalking for the purposes of getting an anti-stalking order (ASO).

In Washington, D.C., stalking is when:

  1. someone commits any of the following acts against you more than one time, known as a “course of conduct”:
  • follows you, monitors you, places you under surveillance, threatens you, or communicates to or about you;
  • interferes with, damages, or takes your property, or damages or enters your home illegally; or
  • uses your personal identifying information;1 and
  1. one of the following must be true:
  • The stalker must intend to cause you to:
    • fear for your safety or the safety of another person;
    • feel seriously alarmed, disturbed, or frightened; or
    • suffer emotional distress; or
  • The stalker must know that the course of conduct would reasonably cause you to:
    • fear for your safety or the safety of another person;
    • feel seriously alarmed, disturbed, or frightened; or
    • suffer emotional distress; or
  • The stalker should know that the course of conduct would cause a reasonable person in your circumstances to:
    • fear for his/her safety or the safety of another person;
    • feel seriously alarmed, disturbed, or frightened; or
    • suffer emotional distress.2

Note: At least one instance of the course of conduct must have occurred within 90 days before filing for an anti-stalking order.3 If conduct is ongoing, then each 24-hour period is considered a separate incident.4

1 D.C. Code § 22-3132(8)
2 D.C. Code § 22-3133(a)
3 D.C. Code § 16-1062(a)
4 D.C. Code § 22-3133(c)

What types of anti-stalking orders are there?

There are two types of anti-stalking orders (ASOs) in Washington, D.C., a temporary ex parte anti-stalking order and a final anti-stalking order.

Temporary (Ex Parte) Anti-Stalking Order (TASO)
When you file a petition for an ASO, you can request that the court issue a temporary order without giving prior notice to the respondent, known as an “ex parte” order. A judge will hold an ex parte hearing on the day you file your petition unless it was filed too late in the day to review. In that case, a hearing on the ex parte order will be held the next day the court is open.

A judge can issue a TASO if you show that your safety, the safety of a household member, or the safety of your animal is immediately endangered by the respondent.1 The first TASO that you get can last up to 14 days. Once you return to court, the judge can extend the TASO for additional 14-day periods, for 28 days with good cause, or for a longer period if both parties consent.2

Final Anti-Stalking Order (ASO)
A final ASO can be issued by a judge after one of the following happens:

  1. there is a court hearing where you and the stalker appear and present evidence and testimony to the judge;3
  2. there is a court hearing where only you appear – the stalker fails to appear even though you can prove s/he was properly served with notice of the court date;4 or
  3. in court, the stalker consents to an ASO being issued. A stalker can consent to an ASO without admitting to stalking.3

In option 1 or 2, above, the judge will only issue the final ASO if s/he believes that it is more likely than not that the respondent stalked you. For option 3, this is not a requirement.

A final ASO lasts up to two years - the expiration date should be included on the order.5 However, the length of the order can change if either party files a motion in court and proves that there is “good cause” to extend it, change (modify) it, or cancel (vacate) it.6 For more information, see How do I change, cancel, or extend my anti-stalking order?

1 D.C. Code § 16-1063(d)
2 D.C. Code § 16-1063(e)(2)
3 D.C. Code § 16-1064(c)
4 D.C. Code § 16-1065(c)
5 D.C. Code § 16-1064(d)
6 D.C. Code § 16-1064(e)

How much does it cost to file and serve the anti-stalking order? Do I need a lawyer?

Filing
There is no fee to file for an anti-stalking order (ASO).

Serving
As long as you have a valid home or work address for the person against whom you are getting the order, the Metropolitan Police Department will attempt to serve the ASO petition at no charge when the party being served lives or works in the District of Columbia. If the person lives in Maryland or Virginia, service may also be free as part of an agreement between Washington, D.C. and the sheriff departments in the surrounding areas of Maryland and Virginia.

Lawyer
Although you do not need a lawyer to file for an ASO, it may be to your advantage to have one. This is especially important if the stalker has a lawyer. Even if the stalker does not have a lawyer, it is recommended that you contact a lawyer to make sure that your legal rights are protected. To find free and paid lawyers, go to our D.C. Finding a Lawyer page.

In addition, the domestic violence agencies in your area and/or court staff may be able to answer some of your questions or help you fill out the necessary court forms. You will find information on legal assistance and domestic violence organizations on the D.C. Advocates and Shelters page. You will find contact information for courthouses on the D.C. Courthouse Locations page.

If you are going to be in court without a lawyer, our Preparing for Court – By Yourself section may be useful to you.

What protections can I get in an anti-stalking order?

You can get the same protections in a temporary and final anti-stalking order (ASO). A judge may order any or all of the following:

  • that the respondent not commit or threaten to commit any crime against you or anyone else named in the order;
  • that the respondent stay away from and/or have no contact with you, or any other people or locations named in the order;
  • that the respondent give back or stops using property that you own together or that you own individually;
  • that the respondent pay your costs and attorney fees;
  • that the police department take action that is necessary to enforce anything ordered in the ASO;
  • that the respondent stay away from and not harm any animal you own;
  • that the respondent must do, or not do, any other actions that are necessary for your safety; and
  • that the respondent cannot own firearms or ammunition and that the respondent must turn in any firearms or ammunition to the police.1

1 D.C. Code § 16-1064(c)

If the stalker lives in a different state, can I still get an anti-stalking order?

If the stalker does not live in D.C., the judge may still have the ability to issue an anti-stalking order against the stalker if one of the following is true:

  • at least one instance of stalking happened in D.C.;
  • at least one instance of stalking had an effect on you in D.C.;1
  • communication from the stalker was made or received in D.C.; or
  • you live in D.C. and are able to access electronic communications from the stalker while in D.C., such as through social media or email.2

However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it does not necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, the stalker may agree to the order or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.

You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.

Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the stalker lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the stalker’s state is far away.

1 D.C. Code § 21-3135(a)
2 D.C. Code § 21-3135(b)