A closer look at no contact orders

MASON CITY, IA – As the suspect in a north Iowa murder sits behind bars; we’re learning more details about his relationship with the woman who died.

As we’ve told you, court documents show Smith had a no contact order against her accused murderer Tyrone Washington Jr., and that court order was in effect just days before she was stabbed to death.

In the wake of a brutal crime like this one many people look to the laws in place, to see if they were effective.

As we told you, Justina Smith called 911 from Swensrud Park in Northwood on Monday.

She was taken to the hospital but later died from her injuries.

We’re not only wondering how no contact orders work, but more importantly if they work.

In Mary Ingham’s line of work, she deals with many victims who have no contact orders in place against their accused abusers.

On this day, we’re talking with Mary about no contact orders in general, and want to clarify that she’s not talking specifically about the Justina Smith case.

“What that is, is a piece of paper telling the batterer to stay away from the victim. Not to have any contact either by e-mail, phone, in person.”

In the state of Iowa if someone is accused of domestic abuse, the perpetrator goes to jail for the night. A judge then issues what’s known as a criminal no contact order. That happens whether the victim wants it or not.

But as Mary explains, many times that order can cause inconveniences for the victim and he or she may choose to ask a judge to lift the order. That’s where Mary steps in.

“In Iowa most prosecutors want that victim to meet with an advocate first just to make sure there’s safety planning let them know what resources are available let them know their options available to keep them safe,” explains Ingham.

The victim also meets with a County Attorney who explains the entire process with them.

“They still have the availability to ask for an application and have a hearing to decide whether that no contact order should be modified or whether that should be dropped and we’re involved in that process,” says Carlyle Dalen, the Cerro Gordo County Attorney.

But he says, sometimes the victim and the county attorney don’t agree.

“Ultimately if we do have a conflict the magistrate or the district court judge will decide the issue.”

Jessica Tierney is an advocate for domestic abuse victims says unfortunately when a victim chooses to leave their attacker that tends to be the most dangerous time.

“The vast majority of women that are murdered by their partner are murdered after they left or while they’re in the process of leaving,” says Tierney.

But Ingham says no contact orders work well to keep victims safe although there are always unavoidable circumstances.

“I think it does serve as great protection to a lot of victims. Unfortunately it’s not enough for all victims, unfortunately there are still people out there batterers who make the choice to kill, strangle, abuse their partners regardless of what the law says,” she adds.

But for many cases, that piece of paper telling perpetrators to stay away sends a message, as Dalen explains.

“It says “hey if you’re going to be in contact with me there’s consequences and those are you’re going to have to sit in jail.””

Just to reiterate all of the people we talked with about this issue are speaking in general terms and not specifically about the Justina Smith case.

All agree, that restraining orders are unique to each case and each person involved.

Here’s a little perspective about the number of protective orders in Cerro Gordo County alone there are 460 valid orders currently in effect.

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