Facebook Use Under PFA Orders: Do’s and Don’ts

What Service with a PFA Order Means

If you've just received service of a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, then you very likely have some swift changes to make. A PFA order is a court's command that you do and not do certain things. You must do as the court has ordered, or you may face charges of indirect criminal contempt of the PFA order. You could end up in jail for up to six months and paying up to a $1,000 fine for violating the PFA order. Read the order carefully. Be sure you understand its terms. Then fully comply with every aspect of the order whether you believe it to be important, fair, or not.

You must still comply with the PFA order, even if you object to the scope or terms of the PFA order, or believe that the person it protects had no evidence of actual or threatened domestic abuse on which to gain the order. Temporary PFA orders are relatively easy for the protected person to gain. Pennsylvania's General Assembly intended it that way when in 1990 it enacted the state's Protection from Abuse Act. The Act's Section 6107(b) authorizes the court to issue a temporary PFA order based solely on the protected person's testimony without the restrained person even knowing of the proceeding. The relative ease of gaining a temporary PFA order makes them subject to abuse. You may well not have deserved PFA restraint. You must still comply with the temporary PFA order. Do not ignore or violate a PFA order simply because you disagree with it.

Challenging a Temporary PFA Order

Rather than ignore and potentially violate a temporary PFA order with which you disagree, you should challenge the order in court. The Protection from Abuse Act's Section 6107(a) requires that the court offer the restrained person a hearing within ten business days of issuing the temporary order. That hearing is your opportunity to present your testimony and exhibits, and the testimony of other witnesses, showing that you did not abuse or threaten to abuse the protected person and that you present no such threat. To make a just and fair decision, the court needs to hear both sides. The hearing is the court's first time to hear your side after having issued an ex parte temporary PFA order. Do challenge an objectionable PFA order in court. Do not ignore and violate it.

The burden to prove abuse or threats of abuse is on the protected person. Your opposing evidence may well carry the day in court. You are especially likely to succeed in challenging an unfair, unsupported, and overbroad PFA order when you retain expert criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. Attorney Lento has the abundant trial skills and long experience with Pennsylvania PFA orders to show that the protected person did not deserve the court's temporary PFA order and that the court should not turn the temporary order into a permanent order. Retain attorney Lento and the Lento Law Firm, and you'll have the best chance to avoid the burden, disruption, and risks of a permanent PFA order. Do get expert lawyer help. Do not go it alone.

The Burden of a Permanent PFA Order

Permanent PFA orders can indeed burden and disrupt the restrained person's home, job, finances, relationships, and life. The Protection from Abuse Act's Section 6108 authorizes the court not just to restrain abuse or threats of abuse but to require the restrained person to do and not to do a host of other acts. A PFA order may award child custody to the protected person, keeping the restrained person from seeing the children. A PFA order may remove the restrained person from the home and award the home to the protected person. PFA orders may also require the restrained person to pay spousal support and child support. PFA orders may also require the restrained person to give up any firearms the restrained person possesses.

And finally, PFA orders may prohibit the restrained person from having any contact, whether in person or by remote means, with the protected person or children. No-contact orders can prevent the restrained person from visiting the home, school, workplace, or other location where the protected person or children may be present. No-contact orders can also mean having no telephone, email, text message, social media, or other remote communication with the protected person or children. No-contact orders can severely disrupt and restrict the restrained person's movement and relationships. They also present veritable traps for PFA violations. Do recognize the enormous burden of a PFA order. Do not take a PFA order lightly.

Facebook's Risky Role Under PFA Orders

One of the very significant risks under a PFA no-contact order is that your use of Facebook or similar social media may lead to a charge that you violated the PFA order. Facebook private messages sent to the protected person could certainly violate a strict no-contact order. So, too, could a Facebook post the content of which the restrained person directs to the protected person. A Facebook friend request would also likely violate a PFA no-contact order. Even a Facebook “like” that the restrained person adds to the protected person's post communicates something to the protected person. Each of these uses of Facebook involves communication of some sort from the restrained person to the protected person. Do recognize the PFA risks of Facebook use. Do not simply continue on with your Facebook life.

If you use Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or similar social media but are subject to a PFA no-contact order, then you need to be extremely careful with your social media use. Depending on how the social media platform works, what you intend to direct to one person or group may appear in the form of a message to the person whom the PFA order protects. You may intend to message, like, dislike, friend request, or otherwise remotely engage a third party but inadvertently engage the protected party, too. Your intention should control the issue in such a circumstance. But intention can be hard to prove. Facebook use under a PFA no-contact order could be sufficiently hazardous as to swear off its use at least for a time. Do consider stopping Facebook use until your PFA obligations are crystal clear. Do not chance Facebook use when you know it could be a PFA violation.

Facebook Likes Lead to PFA Contempt Charges

One such report of a Facebook-induced PFA contempt charge arose recently when a restrained Jenkins Township man allegedly liked his protected ex-girlfriend's photos on Facebook. The man's twenty-two Facebook likes, despite the PFA no-contact order, led to the man's arrest for allegedly violating the order. Public discussion of the case and other similar cases suggest that Facebook likes can be enough to violate a PFA no-contact order. A Facebook like may not include any words but is certainly communicating something. A person protected from abuse by a PFA no-contact order could potentially construe a Facebook like as harassing, annoying, or even stalking and threatening behavior. Following a protected person on Pinterest and sending a Google Plus invitation to a protected person have also led to contempt charges, according to the same report. Do believe that Facebook posts can be PFA violations. Do not think that your Facebook use is immune.

Defending Facebook Charges in PFA Contempt Proceedings

Just because a Facebook or other social media engagement looks like a communication from the restrained person to the protected person doesn't mean that the court will find it so. If you find yourself in that position, you may have a sound defense to PFA contempt charges. The outcome may depend on how Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or the other social media platform triggering the charges works. Some social media platforms generate automatic messages and requests. The restrained person may not have known about those automatic communications or had any intent to trigger them. The restrained person's testimony to that effect, plus expert testimony from a person familiar with the platform's function, may make for a sure defense. Do put up a strong defense. Do not assume your guilt.

Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act places on the protected person the burden to prove the need for a PFA order. The protected person bringing a contempt charge, or the sheriff or police officer pursuing the charge, also has the burden of proving the order's violation. That burden means proving that the Facebook post or like came from the restrained person. Proving the source of a Facebook post can implicate significant evidentiary burdens and issues. Facebook and other social media platforms may auto-generate communications, or others may send communications that appear to be from the restrained person but are not. Do investigate and pursue your PFA defenses with expert attorney help. Do not let the other side get away with a weak and defensible case.

Retain Expert Pennsylvania PFA Defense Representation

If you face a hearing on a final PFA order, then promptly retain premier criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm for your defense. You should especially retain skilled and experienced counsel if you face a contempt proceeding charging you with violating a PFA order. Facebook posts and other social media use can lead to PFA contempt findings. Fines and jail are possible simply for Facebook use in such circumstances. Attorney Lento has the investigatory, defense litigation, and trial skills to prepare and present your best defense. Call 888-535-3686 to schedule a consultation, or use the online service.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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