Like all other states, Pennsylvania allows victims of domestic violence, stalking, and harassment to get protection orders against their abusers. If any abuser violates a protection order, they can face serious criminal charges that carry harsh penalties. In many cases, violation of a protection order falls under state jurisdiction, but there are times when the crime falls under federal jurisdiction, such as if the offense occurs across state boundaries.
If you were arrested or are under investigation for federal interstate violation of protection order, you should contact a federal criminal defense attorney right away to help you understand the charges and work with you to develop an effective defense.
What Is Interstate Violation of Protection Order?
State courts may grant protection orders to those who suffered domestic violence, abuse, stalking, or harassment. Most states recognize protection orders issued in other states, and they can work together to prosecute alleged violations. Examples of protection orders include:
- Protection for Abuse (PFA) orders
- Protection from Intimidation Orders (PFIO)
- Sexual Violence Protection Orders (SVPO)
The federal government usually does not get involved with prosecuting violations of protection orders unless any of the following apply:
- You traveled across state lines to violate the order – You can also face charges if you traveled in interstate or foreign commerce or entered or left an Indian country (reservation) to violate the order.
- You caused the victim to travel across state lines – You could face charges if you used threats, force, coercion, duress, or fraud to cause the victim to travel across state lines and violate the order.
Additionally, you could face federal charges if the violation occurred aboard any vessels or U.S. ships in U.S. waters.
Prosecuting Violation of Protection Order
To prosecute you for the crime, the federal government will have to show the following:
- You have a court-ordered protection order against you that prohibits you from making threats, conducting violence, injuring, or repeatedly harassing the victim.
- You traveled across state lines or country borders with the intent to violate the order. The same applies if you took your accuser across state or international boundaries to violate the protection order.
- You engaged in conduct that violated the order.
Nearly all protection orders prohibit the abuser from having any sort of contact with the victim or even being in close proximity to them.
Penalties for Interstate Violation of Protection Order
The penalties you could face will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. However, you could receive up to five years in federal prison for almost any type of violation. Also, you could receive enhanced penalties if you injured anyone or used a weapon during the offense. For example:
- You could get up to 10 years in prison if you seriously injured the victim or used a dangerous weapon during the crime.
- You could get up to 20 years in prison if you caused life-threatening or disfiguring injuries.
- You could receive life in prison or even the death penalty if you killed the victim or anyone else during the crime.
Also, all penalties have the potential for fines, and the court may also order you to pay restitution to the victim for any expenses they incurred because of the ordeal. The Violence Against Women Act stipulates victims may receive compensation from their abusers to help cover the costs of medical and psychological treatment, physical therapy, lost wages, attorney's fees, childcare and transportation expenses, and any other financial losses.
Additionally, you may lose the right to own a gun under the federal Gun Control Act. The law forbids anyone convicted of domestic violence or has a protection order against them from owning a gun. If caught possessing a firearm, you could receive an additional ten years in prison along with substantial fines.
Pennsylvania Violation of Protection Order
Along with federal charges, you can also face charges in Pennsylvania if the crime occurred in the state or you have a protection order against you issued in the state.
The crime is considered indirect criminal contempt of court, and you could receive up to six months in jail along with fines up to $1,000.
Possible Defenses for Interstate Violation of Protection Order
To successfully prosecute and convict you of the crime, federal prosecutors will have to show you crossed state lines and engaged in activity that violated the order. Prosecutors will have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and your attorney may identify several defense options to help you get a favorable outcome. Some examples include:
- You did not cross state lines – You cannot face federal charges if the crime did not occur across state lines.
- You crossed state lines but had no intention of violating the order or having contact with the victim – Perhaps you went to the same location as the victim, but you had no idea they would be there, and you just ran into each other.
- Someone falsely accused you of the crime – People make false accusations for any number of reasons, including revenge and spite. Perhaps a spurned lover or jealous ex accused you in order to get you into trouble.
Also, under closer scrutiny, the evidence may not support your involvement in the crime at all—or at the very least, the evidence may contain enough holes to create doubt in jurors' minds.
Regardless, you need to consider all your options for defense, and you need an experienced federal defense attorney to review your case, advise you of your best options, and fight to protect your rights and future.
Get Help From an Experienced Federal Defense Attorney
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully defended many clients in Pennsylvania Eastern and Middle District Courts on interstate violation of protection order charges and other federal offenses. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or fill out our contact form to request a confidential consultation.