Restraining Orders Are Public Records

Posted on January 23, 2015


It’s hard to tell whether this is a goad or a guarantee: “Find Restraining Order Records For Anyone Instantly!” Either way, it’s enticing.

If you’re dating someone and you’ve noticed how their temper gets out of control, before things go any further, check their record on Restraining Order Records. They might not have ever committed a crime, but if their name shows up on Restraining Order Records, you might think twice about pursuing this relationship.

Lawyers discount restraining orders as he said/she said matters: no biggie. Judges may also consider objections to them to be overstated—simply because they’ve been stated at all. These dismissals stand in stark contrast to the admonition: “Restraining Orders aren’t pleasant to think about, but the consequences can be worse. Check Restraining Order Records.”

Which appraisal of the significance of restraining orders do you think more closely corresponds to the public’s? (That is a rhetorical question, yes.)

The quoted material above is featured on the site, which advertises the “Top Restraining Order Records Sites”: Instant Checkmate, United States Background Checks, Been Verified, U.S. People Records, and SpyFly.

Whether the returns from such sites can be relied upon is something the reader may investigate if s/he chooses; the writer doesn’t want to know. Whatever the case, however, the issuance of a civil restraining order represents a judicial ruling, and judicial rulings are public records. Here’s “why”:

Essential to the rule of law is the public performance of the judicial function. The public resolution of court cases and controversies affords accountability, fosters public confidence, and provides notice of the legal consequences of behaviors and choices.


The public in general and news media in particular have a qualified right of access to court proceedings and records. This right is rooted in the common law. The First Amendment also confers on the public a qualified right of access. In 1980, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment right of access to court proceedings includes the public’s right to attend criminal trials. The Court suggested that a similar right extends to civil trials…. Some courts of appeals have held that the public’s First Amendment right of access to court proceedings includes both criminal and civil cases (Timothy Reagan, “Sealing Court Records and Proceedings: A Pocket Guide”).

Although they’re civil instruments, restraining orders are associated with violent or otherwise criminally deviant behavior, so they’re recorded and preserved in statewide police databases and the FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, which private investigator Brian Willingham calls the “closest thing to a nationwide criminal records check in the United States today” (italics added). They’re also recorded (virtually in perpetuity) at their courthouses of origin. Defendants named on domestic violence restraining orders may furthermore be entered into a domestic violence (specific) registry, possibly even if a temporary order against them is dismissed. The potential consequences to employment and even employability in certain fields could hardly be more obvious.

A profession as mundane as “substitute teacher” requires that its applicants undergo an FBI background check, and any interviewer may, of course, simply ask if a prospective employee has “ever been the subject of a restraining order.”

Ease of access to restraining order records by the general public differs from state to state. In Indiana, for example, it just takes an Internet connection. In other states, records aren’t as conveniently scrutinized.

That doesn’t, however, mean they’re inaccessible.

The animus behind advocacy for restraining orders is the animus behind all law related to violence against women. Whether advocates are anti-rape or anti-domestic-violence, the argument is the same: that the accused must be exposed so that (female) victims of violence will be encouraged to come forward. Publicity isn’t just incidental; it’s demanded.

Superficially, the demand isn’t without sympathy.

Restraining orders, however, are adjudicated in civil court. That means they’re matters instigated by private citizens whose allegations aren’t (necessarily) vetted by the authorities or by government prosecutors. They are, very literally, he said/she said prosecutions. Temporary restraining orders may be obtained in minutes based only on finger-pointing and feelings (“I’m afraid”), or on testimony that’s significantly or totally false (or even maliciously fabricated). The evidentiary bar is so low as to be skipped over—tra-la-la—and judicial bias is endemic and may even be mandated.

Elaine Epstein, former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, famously observed decades ago, “Everyone knows restraining orders…are granted to virtually all who apply.”

The situation that obtains then is one of damning documents’ being generated on the basis of one or two protestations of fear or danger made to prejudiced judges in mere minutes-long procedures whose rulings are recorded indefinitely in public databases that any teen with a laptop and Daddy’s credit card can poke a zitty nose into from McDonald’s.

Copyright © 2015