In Pennsylvania, a restraining order is known as a protection from abuse (PFA) order. The PFA order is governed by the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act, 23 PA.C.S.A. §§ 6101-61119, as amended. Like a restraining order, a PFA order limits contact between two people and is intended to cease domestic violence. There are three types of PFA orders that can be obtained in Pennsylvania:
- Full Order. A full order for protection from abuse can last for up to three years. It is issued by a judge at a hearing at the Court of Common Pleas in each respected Pennsylvania county. Both the “victim” and the alleged perpetrator must attend the hearing. It is during this time that the petitioner must prove the abuse and the defendant must defend him or herself against the abuse accusations.
- Temporary Order. A temporary order is an order entered by the court to provide protection between the time the temporary PFA order was issued and the court hearing. Court hearings for PFAs are usually held five to ten days after the petition is filed, at which time a full order may be granted. Temporary orders are issued without the defendant having an opportunity to defend him or herself; the temporary PFA order is based only on what the petitioner says and/or proves.
- Emergency Order. An emergency order is issued by a magisterial district judge if there is a true emergency and the Court of Common Pleas is closed. An emergency order expires the next business day, at which time it can be replaced by a temporary order.
For the purpose of this article, we will identify: (1) the qualifications and consequences of a PFA; and (2) under what conditions a PFA order can be expunged.
Protection from Abuse Order: Qualifications & Consequences
There are certain qualifiers that must be met in order for a PFA order to be issued. Sometimes, unfortunately, PFA orders are issued under false pretenses, and the consequences of it can be dire.
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.
A PFA action cannot be brought against neighbors, roommates, coworkers, classmates, or strangers. Also, if the petitioner is 17 years old or younger, an adult is required to file the petition on his or her behalf.
What must be proven for a Permanent PFA Order to be issued?
There are two elements that must be present in order for a permanent PFA order to be issued. First, the alleged abuser must be a family member or an intimate partner (current or former). Second, there must be sufficient proof of abuse; sufficiency will be determined by the Court of Common Pleas. The abuse must be in one or more of the following forms:
- Physical abuse;
- Sexual abuse;
- Threats making the petitioner feel as though he or she was in imminent danger; 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?
A PFA order prevents the defendant from going anywhere around or near the “victim.” Other consequences include:
- Removal from your residence if you had been living with the petitioner
- Loss of constitutional rights, e.g. right to firearms
- Loss of parental rights
- Payment for PFA fees
- Public court record of a PFA order.
Also, though a PFA order is a civil action, if an order is placed against you and you violate the terms of it, you could face criminal charges, a conviction of which can be accompanied by serious penalties.
To prevent or counter these consequences, you need a defense attorney who can aggressively advocate on your behalf at the PFA hearing. Once a permanent order is issued against you, you have little recourse.
Expungement of a PFA in Pennsylvania
All PFA order, regardless if an emergency or a permanent order, become part of the court's public record. This automated process is unfair for persons who are found innocent of the accusations, but are still harmed by the consequences of the orders. There are only two situations in Pennsylvania, according to Carlacci v. Mazaleski, under which you can obtain an expungement of a court record of your PFA order. These two situations include:
- The petition for a PFA was dismissed; or
- A permanent PFA order was never issued because the request may have been withdrawn (e.g., you reconciled with the petitioner, the petitioner knows the claim was wrongly made, or there was insufficient evidence of abuse).
If a permanent PFA order is issued, the public record cannot be expunged. In the Commonwealth v. Charnik, a permanent PFA order had been issued against the defendant. The court found that an expunction was not allowed in cases of permanent PFA orders because (1) there was a hearing on the evidence; and (2) the court determined that the PFA order was appropriate based on the evidence.
Thus, if you have been falsely accused of abuse and have a temporary PFA against you, it is highly advised you contact an experienced PFA defense attorney in Pennsylvania today. The sooner you do, the sooner a strategic defense can be developed on your behalf to maximize your chances of a successful outcome. .
Pennsylvania PFA Expungement Attorney
If you have been falsely accused of abuse and have a PFA order against you, experienced legal counsel is in your best interests. The courts already lean towards a preference for the petitioner given that they are willing to issue a temporary order without substantial proof of abuse. Without a strategic defense, a permanent order could be issued against you, and because of it, a permanent stain will be on your record. You require a lawyer who knows both the the court and the judges at the Courts of Common Pleas throughout Pennsylvania. You also need a lawyer who can draw on years of experience to strategize a defense that will maximize your chances of a good outcome.