A man in the Philadelphia area is facing numerous criminal charges for allegedly killing his ex-wife with an assault rifle in what appears to be a child custody dispute. While there are numerous facets to the scenario, one that bears investigating is the role that a PFA, or protection from abuse order, would have had to make the charges include a serious gun crime.
Man Shoots and Kills Ex-Wife in Philadelphia Area
The incident happened on March 28, 2019, in a Wawa Convenience Store in Radnor Township, just to the northwest of Philadelphia.
According to the initial reports, a man was supposed to bring his child to the store for a scheduled custody exchange with his ex-wife. He came alone, though, with an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle. When his ex-wife entered the store, he shot her in the stomach and head at what police are describing as “point blank range.” He then fled the scene and was apprehended at a local park where police said he was having a drug overdose.
The man had previously threatened to kill his ex-wife in 2016, a threat that led to an arrest. She had obtained a PFA against him at some point, but it had expired in September 2018.
Out of the many issues in this situation, one of them is how PFA orders intersect with the gun rights of their defendants.
How PFAs Alter Gun Rights
In Pennsylvania, a PFA is a court order that works much like a restraining order. There are several types of PFAs: The process often begins when a purported victim and plaintiff requests an emergency or ex parte PFA. These are granted quickly and on the basis of the alleged victim's uncontested statements, but they expire within a few days. They can be extended into a final PFA after a court hearing in which the defendant can challenge the necessity of the order and the sufficiency of the evidence underlying it.
The terms of the PFA depend on the situation. However, in many PFAs stemming from alleged domestic violence, the defendant is required to relinquish any firearms they have and is prohibited from acquiring any new ones.
When the PFA includes these provisions related to a defendant's firearms, there are serious repercussions that come with retaining or buying a gun. Because a PFA is a court order, breaking it can lead to a criminal contempt charge; a misdemeanor offense that carries up to 6 months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. And because the PFA can be violated by merely possessing firearms once the terms of the order go into effect, nothing more needs to be done for a contempt charge to be filed.
When the PFA's terms are set to expire, they can be renewed by the plaintiff by showing that the danger persists.
Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento Serves Philadelphia
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who handles PFA orders and can advocate both for plaintiffs who want protection and for defendants who want to preserve their rights. You can contact him online or call his Philadelphia law office at (215) 535-5353.