A Civil Standby. What is it?

What is a Civil Standby? 

Historically, when someone needed to show up to a situation that had the potential to turn violent, aggressive or troubled, the local sheriff or officer was called to show up and make sure that the situation remained “civil”.  Modern “civil standbys” are an extension of this concept.  Officers are called not to show up and investigate a crime; but, rather, to manage a hostile situation, or in the case of Protection Orders  or No-Contact Orders, to provide a legal exception to otherwise banned contact so a party can collect their essential belongings.

In Washington, when a court or commissioner decides to prevent someone from accessing his or her residence or belongings by entering a Protection Order  in a civil setting, or No-Contact Order  in a criminal setting, a defense lawyer can ask the court to authorize a civil standby  for a police escort so that they can pick up their necessary belongings without violating the judge’s order and committing a crime.

How do they work?

In Washington, depending on what jurisdiction your belongings are in, each police department has a different approach.   For civil standbys, you call the local NON-EMERGENCY number; and, in general, the dispatch will ask you to wait in the vicinity where your belongings are (without violating any distance restrictions of the Protection Order or No-Contact Order) until an officer can be dispatched to assist.  We have had clients wait 15 minutes, we have had clients wait 2 hours … it all depends on the department, on the number of emergency calls and on the number of officers on duty that day.   We recommend doing a civil standby on a weekday during the daytime.  Calling the non-emergency number on your cell number assures there is a readily available record of why you are waiting in a car in the geographic area and prevents someone from claiming you are stalking them or trying to harass them when you head into the area.  Call and confirm this process before you start driving.

As defense lawyers, we always recommend that you bring a neutral third party, or parties, with you.   This assures that there is a witness present to wait and help collect your belongings, vouch for you and make the whole process easier.  Also, depending on the situation, it can be very helpful for you to keep a daily/hourly log as to where you go, who you were with, and what occurred to rebut groundless accusations.

Generally, civil standbys allow you to take your necessary belongings, not all your belongings.  A police officer is not going to wait 6 hours while you empty your house.  In our experience, in the Puget Sound area of Washington, police officers generally give an individual and their friends, about 15-30 minutes to grab what they can, depending on case load and number of officers on duty. If your criminal defense attorney or lawyer anticipates this process, they can have you list out the belongings or type of belongings you intend to take and discuss this with the prosecuting attorney to avoid petty arguments and give the police officer some direction. Remember, an officer is there to “standby”, and will not make decisions or intervene so using as much forethought as possible is always a good idea.

Each department’s non-emergency number is listed below:

Methods of getting the remaining belongings are a problem that you and your criminal defense attorney or lawyer will need to work out through the court or with opposing counsel.  A common problem is that courts only have “jurisdiction” over the person charged with a crime or the respondent in a protection order case.  Court orders do not give jurisdiction over the victim or filing party, however their are ways to ask the court to do so.  This issue can be sorted out in a number of ways, but there is no perfect answer to this situation at present other than to document any misuse of the legal process or destruction of property to be bought up at the right time in court by your lawyer.   Certainly, someone claiming to be a victim, but who is actively interfering with the removal of belongings that are legitimately not theirs; or, better yet, destroying them, is not acting like a victim.   These are the sorts of facts that eventually can become relevant and are worth documenting.

Our lawyers have handled, discreetly when possible, an enormous number of complicated relationship problems in the civil and criminal forums. Whether attacking or defending, we know the law and how to effectively frame and argue the issues these kinds of situations present.  This knowledge and ability means we have earned a reputation as effective speakers to prosecutors, judges and juries alike.  Whether our role is one of legal counsel, negotiator, or litigator, hiring us means you have an experienced and driven firm who has years of experience resolving cases with our clients’ best interests in mind.

Robert Rhodes

With a successful background in law, courtrooms, wrestling, rugby and jujitsu, Robert Rhodes’s nature is well-suited for argument and litigation. Mr. Rhodes knows how to talk clearly and directly to his clients, adversaries and to the Court. His common sense, straight talk and experience put his clients immediately at ease. Mr. Rhodes does not do anything half way and you will sense this when you meet him. Read more >>