Minnesota Supreme Court to examine constitutionality of no contact orders

Virtually everyone in Minnesota who has ever faced charges of domestic assault can tell you what a no contact order is. For most people, they are a suspension of their rights without having the ability to defend themselves. This is because judges in Minnesota have been routinely issuing no contact orders whenever a person is charged with domestic assault. Until now, few judges have been willing to listen to the defendant's point of view.

That may soon change after a man from northern Minnesota challenged the law. A judge issued a domestic abuse no contact order, sometimes referred to as a DANCO, after the man allegedly hit his wife in the head several times during an argument at their apartment. The man was not offered the opportunity to present his side of the story before the order was issued. He challenged the constitutionality of the law after he was arrested for violating the order.

Understanding no contact orders and due process

According to state statute, a no contact order is an order from a judge prohibiting a person charged with domestic violence, including abuse, harassment or stalking of a family member, or violating an order for protection, from having contact with the alleged victim. Typically, these orders are issued immediately after pretrial release or sentencing determinations are made.

Judges have discretion to outline the parameters of a DANCO, although they can include barring the defendant from:

  • Visiting or staying at the same residence as the victim
  • Contacting the victim by telephone
  • Contacting the victim by electronic means, including e-mail and texting
  • Coming within a specified number of feet from the victim

For criminal defendants, no contact orders frequently mean that they will have limited access to their children as well as their homes. These restrictions amount to an infringement on their right to live their lives without a chance to defend themselves. This is where the due process comes in.

The 5 th and 14 th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protect the rights of people to be heard before having their freedom stripped from them. So, if a person is charged with a crime, they have the right to know what they are being charged with and to defend themselves against the allegations. This includes the right to present evidence on their own behalf.

In every other aspect of criminal law, due process is given to defendants before their liberty is taken from them. However, no contact orders are issued without regard to this procedural safeguard.

Those who are charged with violating a DANCO often face penalties that are more severe than the underlying offense. The man from northern Minnesota faced felony charges for violating the DANCO because he had been charged with assault and had violated other no contact orders on two prior occasions. If convicted, the man could face as much as five years in prison.

New hope for those charged with domestic assault

A district court judge agreed with the man's initial challenge to the charge and the case was appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, who overturned the lower court decision. The Court of Appeals reasoned that because judicial discretion to issue the orders were limited to instances where a defendant had already been charged with domestic assault, there was no constitutional violation.

Now, the man is taking his case to the highest court in the state. The Minnesota Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case next year.

What to do if you have been charged with domestic abuse

Domestic violence charges, including domestic abuse carry serious consequences for those who are convicted. To protect your rights, you need an aggressive legal advocate on your side. An experienced Minneapolis criminal defense attorney can dissect the prosecution's case and expose any weaknesses.