When a person learns that they have been named in a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order in the state of Pennsylvania, they are faced with a potentially difficult decision. Should they fight the order in an attempt to avoid its repercussions, or should they consent to it as the wisest course of action?
That's the dilemma that Erie County Executive Brenton Davis was forced to deal with in April 2023 after an unnamed woman sought protection orders against him. The woman claimed that Davis physically assaulted her at his home on April 9, 2023.
How Does a PFA Order Affect the Person Named?
A Protection from Abuse order prohibits one person from having any contact with another person (or people, as is often the case when children are involved). This includes all types of communication, from postal mail and telephones to texts and social media messaging platforms. Should the defendant in the case violate these restrictions, they will be arrested and brought up on criminal charges.
Historically, courts have had generous leeway when it comes to safeguarding the petitioner. A PFA might compel the defendant to leave their home, pay for certain expenses the petitioner incurs (such as a mortgage, health insurance, or doctor's bills), relinquish their firearms, waive custody of shared children, and much more.
To Contest or to Consent—Which Is Better?
As you can see, restricting the named individual's freedoms means there is significant potential for negative impacts on their life and well-being. Faced with these consequences, many defendants are adamant about appealing the Protection from Abuse order. If they choose that option, the presiding judge will schedule a hearing at which both parties will present their side of the story. It's then up to the judge to grant or reject a permanent order of protection.
This can be a risky route for defendants to take, especially if there is evidence to support claims of abuse. Additionally, most hearings take place within 10 days of issuance of the temporary PFA, which doesn't leave a lot of time to develop a defense.
The other option, consenting to the PFA order, eliminates the need for a hearing. In these instances, defendants agree to the order's terms, but they do not necessarily have to admit wrongdoing. It's similar to an Alford plea in criminal defense, in which the defendant acknowledges the likelihood of prevailing during a trial without admitting any guilt.
Erie County Executive Davis decided to fight the order, and at a hearing on April 24, 2023, Judge Robert Boyer said that the claim lacked a preponderance of evidence (the legal standard in civil cases). He, therefore, decided not to grant the PFA.
Which Way Should You Go?
Just as no two relationships are the same, no two Protection from Abuse orders are identical either. To know whether contesting or consenting is the right choice, all aspects of the case must be taken into consideration by the defendant and their attorney. Since this difficult choice may result in grave consequences, it's not a decision to be taken lightly or to be made on the defendant's own.
The qualified legal team at Lento Law Firm are invaluable in this situation. Using their years of experience and their abiding knowledge of the law, they can help someone named in a Protection of Abuse order make this weighty decision—and work hard toward the best possible resolution.