Issuing a protection from abuse (PFA) order is similar to other processes. The filing party, or the “petitioner,” is responsible for filling out the appropriate paperwork, attending a hearing about their case, and then waiting for the judge to come up with a verdict. Most people understand that the decision of whether or not a PFA order is necessary is left up to the discretion of the court. But the details, like how a judge ultimately comes up with this decision and what must be proven, is rarely discussed.
To completely understand what evidence must be established to warrant a PFA order, one must understand its intended purpose. It's essentially a preventative measure to protect victims from threats and potential violence. One of the only ways to cease dangerous behavior is to order an alleged offender to keep their distance from targets and prohibit contact. But before a court can legally issue this order, it must be proven that there is a reasonable fear of danger. This is usually established when there's viable proof that physical, and even sometimes emotional abuse is occurring.
All evidence in a PFA hearing is evaluated based on a standard of evidence. In these cases, a petitioner must prove the allegations by a “preponderance of evidence” - a standard much lower than what is used for criminal cases (beyond a reasonable doubt). Due to the preponderance standard, all evidence in a hearing solely requires that the allegations more likely than not occurred.
In these hearings, it's natural for a defendant to want to present their own account of the incident by presenting information and evidence, but it's not a requirement. Depending on a defendant's circumstances, defendants are often encouraged to participate to give a judge more perspective and context of an incident. However, not presenting won't guarantee an unfavorable verdict for defendants. If a judge doesn't believe what the petitioner says, the defendant will prevail without putting forth any evidence. But it isn't wise to leave these things up to fate. If you believe that a PFA order is unwarranted in your case, you should fight to make sure your voice is heard.
After hearing all evidence, the judge will make a decision to either issue a full PFA order or dismiss the petition. If the order is granted, the offender will be prohibited from contacting a plaintiff for up to one year. This could include a move from a shared residency with a victim, work accommodations and more changes, depending on just how interlinked the lives of a defendant and petitioner are.
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Individuals who go to a hearing and lose will have to live with details of their alleged abuse being accessible to employers, the military, and anyone who has access to public records on the internet. It is strongly recommended that you seek experienced and skilled legal counsel to help you effectively defend PFA actions. Knowledgeable attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience helping individuals who have been in your shoes. Contact him today for help.