Minnesota Statutes section 609.748 grants an individual the right to seek a harassment restraining order against another. An HRO makes conduct that is otherwise legal (such as contact or presence at a location) a crime.
Everyone feels offended by the behavior of another from time to time. Sometimes people go too far, yelling obscenities or threatening to expose something. In the context of harassment, the question involves whether the actions of another are, indeed, “harassment” as defined by law.
By statute, “harassment” has a very narrow definition. Conduct that is merely offensive or rude is not necessarily the basis for an HRO. Instead, the following elements must be satisfied:
- A single act of physical assault or sexual assault;
- A single incident of nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images; or
- Repeated (unwanted) words, acts or gestures that have a substantial adverse effect (or are intended to have a substantial adverse effect) on the safety, security or privacy of another.
The first two acts that may lead to an HRO are relatively straightforward. In has been my experience, however, that the vast majority of harassment cases fall under the “repeated acts” classification. In that scenario, the focus of the judge involves whether someone’s safety, security or privacy has been compromised.
Merely being offended by another’s actions, without more, is unlikely to result in the issuance of a harassment restraining order. The court is more interested if a petitioning party does not, for example, feel safe in their home – or if their e-mail account has been hacked.
In addition, the court will take note if the impact on one’s life is “substantial.” That standard has a lot of gray area, but evidence of speaking with a counselor, changing door locks or other changes to normal routines are often sufficient to satisfy the court.
Procedurally, an HRO case begins with the filing of a Petition without any notice to the other party. If the court accepts the allegations as true and believes they rise to the level of harassment as defined by law, a temporary order will issue. The party against whom the order has issued is given an opportunity to dispute it. If disputed, a hearing will take place with documented evidence and testimony offered to the court.
Most harassment restraining orders are issued for a period of two years. They may be extended if there are violations during that time.