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Contesting a Protection From Abuse Order

by | May 7, 2024 | Criminal Defense | 0 comments

Defending Against a Protection From Abuse Order

Pennsylvania recognizes several types of protection orders, including a protection from abuse (PFA), a protection from sexual violence order (PSVO), and a protection from intimidation (PFI) order. Each of these orders enjoins defendants from engaging in certain behaviors and contacting the alleged victim. While protection orders can help protect domestic violence victims, people also sometimes use them to secure an advantage in a custody or divorce case through false allegations.

If you have been served with a temporary PFA, which is the most common type and involves domestic violence allegations, the potential repercussions can be severe. A final PFA order could result in the loss of your custody rights. You may also be forced to vacate your home, lose certain civil rights, including the right to own or possess firearms, and face potential criminal prosecution. For these reasons, you should not ignore a temporary order. Instead, speak with a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney as soon as possible for help with protecting your rights.

What Is a PFA in Pennsylvania?

The laws governing protection from abuse orders in Pennsylvania are found at 61 Pa.C.S. §§ 6106 et. seq. Under these statutes, any adult or emancipated minor can request a PFA on their behalf or on behalf of another to protect against abuse by a household or family member having one of the following relationships with the alleged victim:

  • Parent
  • Spouse
  • Ex-spouse
  • Domestic partner
  • Former domestic partner
  • Current or former romantic or intimate partner
  • Relatives either through blood or marriage
  • Child

A PFA is also known as a restraining order because it restrains the subject from contacting the alleged victim. The judge can issue orders for the subject to move out of the family home, stay away from the victim’s place of work or school, remain a certain distance away from the victim, and not contact the victim by phone, email, text message, on social media, in person, or through third parties. Judges can also order people to surrender their firearms and not possess or own any gun while the order is in force.

Types of PFAs

There are three types of protection from abuse orders in Pennsylvania, including:

  • Ex-parte or temporary PFA
  • Emergency PFA
  • Final PFA

An ex-parte or temporary PFA involves the alleged victim filing a request in court. There are no filing fees associated with a temporary PFA. Once the individual files the paperwork, the judge will hold an ex-parte hearing with the alleged victim to determine whether there is reason to believe the order is necessary. The court will not notify you or give you time to appear at the ex-parte hearing.

If the court grants the temporary PFA, the sheriff or any competent adult will serve it on you. The court will schedule a hearing within 10 days at which both parties can present evidence, call witnesses, and testify. Following the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will then decide whether the plaintiff has presented enough evidence to support a final PFA. If so, the court will issue a final PFA for up to three years.

An emergency PFA is a temporary order an alleged victim can obtain after normal business hours. They can get an emergency order by calling the police or going before a magistrate judge. Once issued, the emergency order will last until the next court business day at 5 p.m. in the Court of Common Pleas. To change and extend an emergency PFA, the alleged victim must go to the Court of Common Pleas on the next business day after receiving it to request an ex-parte order.

Effect of a Temporary or Permanent PFA

A temporary PFA will have similar effects to a final PFA but will be time-limited. It will be immediately effective once it is formally served on the defendant. The process server will also serve copies of the order to the local police and sheriff’s departments to enforce it if the defendant violates the temporary PFA. Like a final PFA, the judge can order several restraints on the defendant, including:

  • Not going within a certain distance of the victim’s home, school, and/or place of business
  • No in-person, telephone, email, or text contact
  • No third-party contact
  • Vacating the family home if shared with the victim
  • Surrendering firearms to the police or sheriff’s department

When the temporary PFA is served, you will also receive a notice of the hearing. If you receive a temporary PFA and a summons, do not ignore it. Instead, consult an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney as soon as possible for help mounting an aggressive defense and to prepare for the chance that the court will issue a final PFA order. Since the court will hold the hearing within 10 days, talking to a lawyer quickly is imperative.

How to Fight a PFA

While you aren’t required to retain a lawyer to fight a PFA, securing competent legal representation to represent you at the final protection from abuse hearing is in your best interests. At the hearing, you and the alleged victim can present evidence, call witnesses, and testify about the allegations and whether the victim’s request for a final order should be granted.

Your attorney will review the victim’s initial request and talk to you about each allegation. They will help you understand the evidence you might need to gather to present to the court, including photographs, text messages, emails, witness testimony, and others.

At the hearing, the petitioner will testify first and explain why they believe the court should grant a final PFA order. They can also enter evidence and call witnesses to testify for them. Your lawyer can cross-examine the petitioner and any witnesses they call. They can also object to the admission of evidence. Once the petitioner has finished, you can testify, enter evidence, and call witnesses. The petitioner’s attorney can also cross-examine you, object to evidence you seek to admit, and cross-examine any witnesses you might call.

Before the hearing, your attorney will explain what to expect and help you prepare for it. This is vital for successfully defending against a final protection from abuse order in Pennsylvania. If the court denies the final PFA, the temporary order will be dismissed, and you will not face further repercussions.

What Happens if You Don’t Appear?

If you ignore the temporary order and fail to appear for the final PFA hearing, the court can enter a final PFA against you along with any orders the judge believes are warranted. This could subject you to restraints for up to three years, and the plaintiff can also file a request to extend it.

Violation of a PFA

If you violate a temporary or final PFA after proper service or a hearing, you can be prosecuted. Under 23 Pa.C.S.§ 6114, you could be charged with contempt of the court’s order and face up to six months in jail, six months of probation, and a fine ranging from $300 to $1,000. You may also be charged with other criminal offenses based on the conduct underlying the violation.

Talk to an Experienced Criminal Defense Lawyer

Receiving a temporary PFA is serious and could have severe repercussions on your life. If you were served with a protection from abuse order, you should speak to an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney at the Media law firm of Bauer, Scanlon & Wigginton L.L.C. immediately. Call us for a free consultation at (610) 590-5092 to learn about your legal options and how we can help.