You may be able to expunge (meaning to permanently remove) the record of your PFA proceeding if the court did not enter a final PFA order. If, for instance, the person filing the PFA proceeding abandoned the proceeding, or the court dismissed the proceeding before a hearing at which the court entered a final PFA order, then you may well qualify for expunging any record of the PFA proceeding. But if instead, the court entered a final PFA order after a hearing or by agreement, you may not expunge the record of that PFA order and proceeding.
Why Expungement Would Help. PFA orders enter a statewide database or registry to which only court and law enforcement personnel are supposed to have access. Expungement shouldn't be a significant concern as to that restricted database. Employers, schools, and creditors, for instance, shouldn't be able to search that database. Yet PFA orders issue out of civil court cases that are essentially public records. Anyone interested in discovering a civil court proceeding generally could probably do so with a little more effort than the usual background check requires. A search of online court records would often disclose the civil case number and the case parties, and perhaps also pleadings, court papers, and orders entered in the case. The full case file would be available to anyone making that request in person to the court clerk. The one caveat to accessing PFA case records is that a person has to petition the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas where the case took place to request the records. Such requests are generally liberally granted, however, and all records related to the PFA case will be provided to whomever made the request; for example, a member of the public, a background check company, a potential employer, a professional licensing board, and so forth. In sum, PFA orders aren't secret. They are generally available to the public. An unjust, unfair, or unnecessary order could seriously damage your reputation. Expungement could certainly help if only it were available.
Statutory Expungement. Pennsylvania law, though, severely limits expungement rights. Any right to expunge, or permanently remove, a court record generally depends on statutory authority. Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act does not itself provide for expungement. Pennsylvania's legislature has provided for some expungements under 23 Pa. C.S.A. §9122. But that statute permits expungement only in unusual cases, like the defendant having turned age seventy more than ten years after the sentence concluded. Those situations in which statutory expungement applies are not generally applicable to or helpful in PFA proceedings. Pennsylvania statutory law provides no clear route for expunging PFA records.
A Limited Expungement Case Law Right. Pennsylvania's Supreme Court, though, has authorized limited expungement of certain PFA case files. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court case of Carlacci v Mazaleski, 798 A.2d 186 (Pa. S.Ct. 2002), authorized expungement either when (1) the court dismissed the PFA proceeding before issuing a final PFA order or (2) a final PFA order never issued because the plaintiff withdrew or abandoned the proceeding. The Carlacci case involved a mother who obtained a temporary PFA order against the father of her child but who then consented to an order declaring the temporary PFA order null and void. The Carlacci trial court never entered a final PFA order after a hearing finding the order's need, even though the trial court did enter a temporary order. You may indeed be able to expunge the record of a PFA proceeding and even the record of a temporary order if the trial court never entered a final PFA order after hearing.
No Expungement of Final PFA Orders. Notice how limited the Carlacci expungement opportunity is. If the court issued a final PFA order, then Carlacci does not authorize expungement. You cannot expunge a final PFA order. Later Pennsylvania Supreme Court case law confirms that interpretation of Carlacci that you cannot expunge a final PFA order. In the case of Commonwealth v Charnik, 921 A.2d 1214 (Pa. S.Ct. 2007), the trial court had issued a final PFA order against the defendant. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court refused to permit the defendant to expunge the final PFA order because the trial court had held a hearing on which it found sufficient evidence for the order. You cannot wait until the trial court enters a final PFA order after hearing and then hope to expunge the order later.
Alternatives to Expungement. If you act quickly enough, then you may have a better alternative than expungement. First, you should vigorously fight any request for a PFA that you believe is unjust, unnecessary, or overreaching. And you should fight with an aggressive, skilled, and experienced Pennsylvania PFA attorney in your corner. Show up at your PFA hearing with your PFA attorney prepared to defend and defeat the PFA request. Then, you won't have to worry about a final PFA order on your record. If the judge issues a final PFA order, then court rules permit your attorney to ask the judge to reconsider the ruling if you make that request within ten days of the PFA order. Your attorney will have to show that the judge made a mistake in issuing the PFA order, but judges make mistakes, and you may deserve relief. You can also appeal a final PFA order within 30 days. Requests for reconsideration and appeals, though, require skilled PFA counsel.
Don't make the mistake of trying to handle PFA proceedings, requests for reconsideration, appeals, and expungement requests alone. And don't rely on the unskilled help of a lawyer who doesn't have extensive experience with Pennsylvania PFA cases. Instead, retain expert Pennsylvania PFA attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled team at the Lento Law Firm to represent you. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or online for a prompt consultation with Attorney Lento and his team.