The Duration of PFA Orders. Emergency PFA orders last only until the court's next regular session. Temporary PFA orders under 23 Pa. CSA §6107(b) last until the court conducts its hearing, typically within ten days. But generally, final protection from abuse (PFA) orders last for three years, although the judge issuing the PFA could make it for a shorter period. Subsection (d) of the Pennsylvania statute authorizing PFA relief, 23 Pa. CSA §6108, states: “A protection order or approved consent agreement shall be for a fixed period of time not to exceed three years.” Three years tends to be a Pennsylvania PFA judge's default time. If you face a PFA order after the final hearing, then you'll probably find it good for three years unless you have given the judge a good reason for a shorter duration. By limiting PFA orders to three years, Pennsylvania's legislature left an inference that three years is a reasonable cooling-off period to achieve a PFA order's protective and remedial goals. Know, though, that effective advocacy from your expert PFA defense attorney may defeat the PFA request or limit the duration of a PFA order to a shorter period. Retain Pennsylvania PFA attorney Joseph D. Lento to represent you in your PFA matter.
What a Record Is. Yet while PFA orders generally last for three years, it depends on what one means by a PFA appearing on one's “record.” Technically, PFA orders are civil orders issued by a civil court and judge. When one refers to a “record,” one usually thinks of a criminal record, not a civil court filing. PFA orders are not criminal arrests or convictions, although they can look and feel like, and in some ways have the effects of, a criminal action. Because PFA orders are civil in nature, they don't generally appear on a criminal record at all, even within the three years that the PFA order generally lasts. If a defendant violates a PFA order, the defendant could face a criminal contempt conviction that would appear on the defendant's criminal record. Yet, the PFA order itself is a civil, not a criminal, record.
Searchable Databases. Even though PFA orders are civil, not criminal, PFA orders should appear in a searchable database that police can look up when called to enforce PFA orders. Amendments to Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act promoted county registries and a statewide registry known as the Protection from Abuse Database. The Act's Section 6105(e) creates the statewide registry, while the Act's Section 6109(b)requires police to place PFA orders in county registries until the statewide registry takes full effect. With decades having passed since the registry requirements took effect, counties generally no longer maintain their own registries but instead supply PFA records to the statewide database.
Police Enforcement. The statewide PFA database, though, is not a public resource. Instead, the Pennsylvania State Police operate the database as an enforcement mechanism. The Act's Section 6105(e)(3) provides only that “[t]he registry of the Pennsylvania State Police shall be available at all times to inform courts, dispatchers and law enforcement officers of any valid protection order involving any defendant.” The Act's Section 6105(e)(5) expressly places registry information beyond the reach of Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law. The statewide database also depends on police and county court clerks using and properly submitting the system's forms. Not every PFA order issued in every Pennsylvania county court will necessarily appear in the database. And the police, not private persons or entities, are the ones who have regular access to the database. Your PFA order may appear in the state police database, but that doesn't necessarily make it a discoverable “record.”
Civil Court Records. PFA orders generally do, on the other hand, leave a discoverable court record, even though that record is a civil filing rather than a criminal history. And while the PFA itself wouldn't ordinarily last for anything more than three years, the civil filing would usually last in perpetuity. Anyone can look up civil filings going way back, even decades. Courts don't generally destroy old civil court filings. Thus, while the PFA order would no longer be effective after three years, a person making a good search of the civil filings could potentially find and read the old, expired PFA order. Searches of civil court records are much easier today, with the courts moving their files online. Persons discovering your old PFA case could potentially include employers, schools, creditors, and others interested in confirming your sound background and good character.
Sealing a Civil Court Record. Because anyone checking the correct court's civil filings should be able to discover a PFA order, even long after the order expires, Section 6108.7(a) of Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act permits the civil court to seal a PFA case. But only some PFA cases qualify for sealing. Under Section 6108.7(a), the defendant must have entered into a consent agreement relating to the PFA order, while many PFA orders involve no such consent agreement. The defendant must also wait until ten years after the PFA order's consent agreement has expired. And the defendant must have fully complied with the PFA order while having no other PFA orders entered in the meantime. Pennsylvania case law does not permit expungement of final PFA orders, even long after they expire. A temporary PFA that never became a final PFA can be sought to be expunged at the applicable time, however, generally after a PFA case is dismissed or withdrawn in a defendant's favor.
Your Best Approach. Because of a PFA order's substantial and long-term potential effect on your record, if you face an unjust PFA demand and complaint, your best approach is its vigorous defense aided by a committed, skilled, and experienced PFA defense attorney. Some defendants in PFA proceedings make the mistake of ignoring the potential long-term impacts of a final PFA order. They ignore the proceeding, planning to simply stay away from the plaintiff who seeks the order without realizing a PFA's collateral impacts, or they do not put forth the necessary committment to defeating the PFA. Your best approach is instead an aggressive and effective PFA defense. For that defense, you need a Pennsylvania criminal defense lawyer who has the highest commitment, best reputation, and substantial experience in PFA cases. Retain premier Pennsylvania PFA attorney Joseph D. Lento to represent you in your PFA proceeding. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or online for a prompt consultation with attorney Lento.