Lehigh County, Pennsylvania is bordered by the Blue Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountain range. Its county seat is Allentown, Pennsylvania's third largest city. As one of the fastest growing counties in Pennsylvania, Lehigh County is included in both the Allentown-Bethlehem-easton, PA-JN Metropolitan Statistical Area and the New York City-Newark, New Jersey, NY-NJ-CT-PA combined statistical area. Lehigh County is home to more than 363,000 residents, according to the 2016 census, and a large percentage (just over 37%) live in households consisting on average of 2.58 persons.
When people live together, whether by marriage or other arrangement, they can sometimes have disputes. These disputes can lead to accusations. And accusations can lead to legal matters. When feelings of revenge, bitterness, or other emotion replace feelings of love and care, the result can be devastating for everyone involved. Sometimes it leads to false accusations of abuse and wrongful use of the court system to hurt someone.
In Lehigh County, a person can obtain an emergency or temporary restraining order against someone with little need of proof of abuse until a hearing is conducted to determine if abuse took place or not. These restraining orders are properly known as Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders, and upon the initial petition for a PFA order, the request becomes part of the court's public record. Thus, even if the defendant is innocent, and should be innocent until proven guilty, an initial claim can cause serious problems for the defendant if it remains on record and a future employer or other person or entity conducts a background or record search and finds it. If a PFA order was improperly filed against you, you need to have that record expunged, but time is of the essence. An attorney can promptly assist you.
For the purpose of this article, we will identify: (1) the meaning and purpose of a PFA in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania; and (2) the qualifications necessary to have a PFA expunged.
Lehigh County, PA: The Meaning & Purpose of a Protection from Abuse Order
A PFA is a civil action, and it is governed by the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act, 23 PA.C.S.A. §§ 6101-61119, as amended.
Who can a PFA order be filed against?
Upon an allegation and showing of abuse, a PFA order can be obtained against any of the following:
- Spouses or former spouses
- Current or former sexual or intimate partners
- Household members related by blood
- Household members related by marriage
- Same sex couples
- Parents and children.
You should note that a person under the age of 18 must have an adult file on his or her behalf. Furthermore, a PFA action does not apply to disputes between neighbors, roommates, coworkers, classmates, or strangers.
What must be proven for a Permanent PFA Order?
To have a permanent order issued at a PFA hearing, which is conducted somewhere between five and ten days after a temporary PFA order was issued, the petitioner must prove that (1) the defendant is a family member or had an intimate relationship with the petitioner; and (2) the defendant committed one or more of the following acts:
- Physical abuse;
- Sexual abuse;
- Threats that made the petitioner feel as though he or she were in imminent danger;
- Stalking; or
- False imprisonment, e.g. the defendant knowingly held the petitioner against his or her will without the petitioner having a safe means to escape.
What are the consequences of a PFA order?
If you have had a PFA order filed against you, then you can expect any of the following consequences, among others:
- Removal from your residence if you had been living with the petitioner
- Loss of constitutional rights, e.g. right to firearms
- Payment for PFA fees
- Public court record of a PFA order.
The last of these consequences can often prove to be the most harmful long-term.
Lehigh County, PA: Expungement of a PFA
There are only two situations in Pennsylvania under which you can obtain an expungement of a court record of your PFA order. These two situations include:
- The petition for a PFA is dismissed; or
- A permanent PFA order was never issued because the petitioner successfully withdrew the petition or the abuse was not sufficiently proven.
If a permanent PFA order is issued, the public record cannot be expunged. The latter is reason why you must hire an experienced attorney as soon as you are aware of a temporary PFA order against you. The more time an attorney has to prepare for your PFA hearing, the better he can develop a defense strategy for you so that a permanent order is not filed and you remain eligible for an expunction, which is necessary to protect your future and your reputation.
Lehigh County PFA Expungement Attorney
If you have been falsely accused of abuse and have a PFA order against you, you need experienced legal representation. The courts already show preference for the petitioner, thus, you need someone who will advocate aggressively yet compassionately on your behalf. These matters are both serious and delicate, and it requires the skill of a knowledgeable attorney. Joseph D. Lento represents clients who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances and who need an attorney who will fight for them. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today for a consultation.