Being served with a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) in Pennsylvania is nothing to take lightly. A PFA can prohibit you from having any contact with the person who filed the order against you, including both in-person and verbal contact. The order may also require you to move out of your home, change your daily routine and the places you frequent—and it may even strip you of custody or visitation rights, at least temporarily. But even beyond these immediate disruptions, a PFA can have unexpected consequences for many other parts of your life. Licensed professionals, for example, may find themselves under scrutiny from their state licensing boards over allegations of violence and misconduct because of the PFA.
This raises an important question: how could a PFA affect your livelihood as a professional driver? Could your commercial driver's license (CDL) be adversely affected by this order? Could you lose your ability to drive professionally?
The good news is that in the majority of cases, the answer is no. Having a PFA against you should have little or no impact on your ability to obtain or hold a CDL. However, there are instances in which a PFA could impact the type of job you can hold or where you're allowed access as a driver. To minimize this risk, it's always in your best interest to challenge a PFA with the help of an experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney.
How PFAs Work in Pennsylvania
A Protection from Abuse Order is a civil court order that provides legal protection for alleged victims of domestic violence and harassment as well as other related offenses. The petitioner (or plaintiff) is the person requesting protection, and the respondent (or defendant) is the person accused of being a threat. Because a PFA is a civil matter, it's important to note that a PFA can be issued against you without you ever being arrested or charged with domestic violence. The judge must simply be convinced that you pose a potential danger to the petitioner.
Most Protection from Abuse Orders begin as temporary PFAs. The temporary PFA is effective immediately and lasts up to 10 working days pending a final hearing. You will have to abide by the terms of the temporary PFA (no matter how unreasonable it may seem), or you could face criminal contempt charges. When you appear at the final PFA hearing, you can then officially issue a challenge to the PFA. You can appear with an attorney, present evidence, call witnesses, and even cross-examine witnesses for the petitioner. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will decide whether or not there is reason to issue a final PFA. If the judge does finalize the PFA, it stays in effect for up to 3 years.
Does a PFA Appear in Criminal Background Checks?
No. Since a PFA is a civil order, it does not show up in standard criminal background checks. The exception is if you are convicted of criminal contempt for violating the PFA. If that happens, the conviction itself will show up on your criminal record, and any employer that runs a check on you will be able to see it. The PFA will also show up in public court records, and while not many entities will search these records, you should know that there is still a public record that someone could find if they are looking for it.
Ways that a PFA Could Impact You as a Commercial Driver
While it's highly unlikely that a PFA would affect your CDL in general, it could create complications in some job situations where you might need access as a professional driver. You might encounter some issues in the following situations:
- Jobs or locations requiring security clearance. Background security checks are often more in-depth than criminal background checks, and there's a chance your PFA could pop up in one of these checks. If it raises concerns, they could potentially deny your clearance. This could prevent you from working for these agencies or making deliveries in highly secure areas, etc.
- Jobs requiring child abuse history checks (e.g., school bus driver). Driving child passengers often requires you to pass a child abuse history check as well as a criminal background check. If the PA Department of Public Welfare finds the record of your PFA, you could be denied employment.
- Other jobs that require criminal background checks (if you violated a PFA). If you have a criminal conviction for violating a protective order, this could complicate your ability to get hired.
How Can I Protect My Career if Served With a PFA?
To minimize the possibility that a PFA could impact your career as a professional driver, it's important to be proactive in fighting the PFA with the help of an experienced defense attorney. Here are some steps you can take:
- Contest the temporary PFA before it becomes final. If you present compelling evidence that the PFA is un-warranted, the judge may allow it to expire, reducing the risk that it will affect your work.
- Petition to have a temporary PFA expunged from court records. Final PFAs can't be expunged, but temporary PFAs could be eligible for expungement if they were dismissed or withdrawn without becoming final.
- Appeal the final PFA. If you have evidence that the court made an error in law or, in fact, you can file a Motion to Reconsider or appeal directly to the Superior Court to try and get the final PFA overturned.
While it's not common that a PFA would affect your CDL or your career as a professional driver, it's still best to take steps to minimize the risk even further. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has represented many defendants in a variety of cases relating to PFA orders. Contact the Lento Law firm at 888-535-3686 today to discuss your case.