If you're facing a domestic violence charge in a Pennsylvania court, it can be a scary and stressful time for both you and your family. But in a domestic violence case, the court may also have ordered you to stay away from the alleged victim of the attack as a condition of your release from jail, making the charges even more difficult. These protective orders are often called Stay Away Orders (SAO) and are similar to civil Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders issued to victims of domestic violence. This article will discuss some of the top questions we get from clients about Stay Away Orders and how they differ from PFAs in Pennsylvania.
Protection From Abuse Orders in Pennsylvania
A Protection from Abuse (PFA) order is issued by a Pennsylvania civil court to protect the victim of domestic violence. These orders are sometimes known as restraining orders or protection orders. A Pennsylvania statute known as the Protection from Abuse Act delineates the procedures for obtaining a PFA and the rules both the alleged abuser and victim must follow throughout the process. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018).
How Is a Protection From Abuse Order Issued?
Protection from Abuse orders are intended to protect current or former intimate partners or family members from domestic violence. In court, the applicant will need to show both that they have a qualifying domestic relationship, such as a spouse or family member, and that an act of domestic violence occurred between the parties. The process of issuing a PFA is not automatic. Rather, the procedure includes:
- The applicant requests a temporary PFA from a judge in an ex parte or emergency hearing
- The police serve you with both a temporary PFA and notice of a hearing for the final PFA
- You and the applicant may participate in the final hearing, where the judge decides whether to issue the final PFA order
The final PFA can remain in place for up to three years, and the applicant may renew it in many cases.
Violating a Protection From Abuse Order
A PFA is a civil rather than a criminal order. However, if you violate a PFA, you can face criminal charges. If the police have a credible accusation from the applicant that you violated the PFA, they may arrest you for “indirect criminal contempt.” If convicted of indirect criminal contempt, you can face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. You will also have a criminal record.
Stay Away Orders in Pennsylvania
Sometimes the alleged victim of domestic violence won't need to seek a civil Protection from Abuse order. Instead, the criminal court will issue a Stay Away Order to a defendant charged with domestic violence. In some ways, the SAO is similar to a PFA; the order can prevent the defendant from having any contact with or approaching the victim. However, a criminal court judge will issue an SAO related to a criminal case. While the victim isn't a party to the criminal case, they are often important witnesses on behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
How Is a Stay Away Order Issued?
The judge will automatically issue an SAO at the beginning of a criminal domestic violence case or the arraignment. The SAO will last for the duration of the case against the defendant and will typically remain in place for your entire sentence if you're convicted. Unlike a PFA, you likely won't receive a paper copy of the judge's order, which is often issued verbally in court.
To have a Protection from Abuse order issued, the victim must apply in civil court and have a preliminary and final hearing before a judge. A court will never issue a PFA automatically, and you will have the right to defend yourself in a civil hearing before a judge issues a final PFA against you.
When Does a Court Issue a Stay Away Order?
Pennsylvania courts can issue Stay Away Orders in much broader circumstances than a PFA. While PFAs are limited to domestic violence between two people with an existing or former family or intimate relationship, the court may issue an SAO in a case involving two strangers. In this way, the SAO plays an important role in preventing witness intimidation by a defendant. In some cases, the SAO may include restitution for the victim. In contrast, a PFA may include ongoing financial support for a victim of domestic violence, including amounts for rent or child support. The alleged victim can have both a Protection from Abuse Order from a civil court and a Stay Away Order from a criminal court against you at the same time.
Violating a Stay Away Order
Violating a Stay Away Order can subject you to arrest and criminal charges. More urgently, if an SAO is a condition of your parole, violating your parole can land you in jail until your case is fully resolved in court. If you aren't sure what may violate the SAO in place in your case, an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney can help advise you.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
If you're facing a domestic violence charge in Pennsylvania, you need urgent legal guidance. A criminal conviction for domestic violence can follow you for the rest of your life. An SAO issued by a court can also complicate your life. You need to discuss how to avoid an arrest for violating a Stay Away Order with an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his experienced legal team at the Lento Law Firm have been protecting the rights of Pennsylvanians accused of domestic violence for years. Find out how they can help you, too, particularly if you're facing a Stay Away Order related to a domestic violence charge. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation, or contact them online.