The potential for violence is increased between individuals that know each other and is even more likely when there is a family or domestic relationship between the parties. To allow people to seek quick help in the case of alleged abuse, the state of Pennsylvania passed the Protection from Abuse Act in 1990. The court orders in this act can protect an individual from harm from another individual if abuse is alleged.
Under the Protection from Abuse Act, if there is a family or domestic relationship between the parties, then a court order can be granted to protect the alleged victim. If you have had a protection from abuse order granted against you or you are expecting to face a protection from abuse order, then it is important that you don't waste time. It is important that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
What is a Protection from Abuse Order?
A protection from abuse (PFA) order is a court-enforced protective order that is granted by a judge. These orders are meant to restrain an individual's actions because of alleged abuse or sexual assault. A PFA can prevent a defendant from doing several things, including having any contact with the petitioner. If a judge grants a PFA order, then this order is enforced with the power of the court and law enforcement. If a defendant violates a PFA in any way, then that person can be jailed and criminally charged. Once a PFA is granted, then its provisions can be enforced across Pennsylvania and the United States.
What are the Different Types of Protection from Abuse Orders?
There are two varieties of PFAs in the state of Pennsylvania, temporary PFAs and final PFAs. They offer the same protection for different amounts of time. They are explained as follows:
Temporary Protection from Abuse
The first protection from abuse order that someone can request is a temporary protection from abuse order. Temporary PFAs are placeholder orders that are meant to put protections in place right away to protect abuse victims. Temporary PFAs completely favor alleged abuse victims, and this is apparent in the process of obtaining one. First, a petition must be filed by the person seeking protection. The petition must allege some type of physical or sexual violence to the court and describe the allegations in detail.
Once a petition is filed, then the court will conduct an ex parte hearing with just the person seeking protection to hear their side. Ex parte hearings are hearings that are conducted with only one side of the case present. The person being accused of abuse is not allowed to be present at this hearing, nor is his or her attorney. In most court cases, ex parte hearings are not allowed. Ex parte hearings are allowed in temporary PFA cases because of the unique circumstance of the need for immediate protection. Temporary PFA hearings are meant to allow the judge to hear and determine whether immediate protection is warranted. The person seeking protection must prove to the judge that protection is needed.
If the judge is convinced that the person seeking protection has been abused and that a protective order is necessary, then a temporary PFA can be granted and immediately enforced. A hearing to determine whether the protections of the temporary PFA should be made permanent is typically scheduled within ten days of the temporary order being granted. The hearing to determine whether the protections should be made permanent will not be held ex parte, and both sides will be given a chance to be heard.
Final Protection from Abuse
Once a formal hearing has been completed in front of a judge, then a final protection from abuse order can be granted. A final PFA is the more permanent version of the temporary PFA that the petitioner was originally granted when his or her petition was filed. Formal final PFA hearings follow court rules and the rules of evidence. It is important to understand these rules to be able to appropriately present your case before the judge if you are involved in a final PFA hearing. Both the petitioner and defendant can call witnesses to testify and can admit evidence to try to prove their case. Final PFAs are governed by the preponderance of evidence standard of proof. This means that a petitioner has to prove more likely than not that he or she is a victim of abuse and that continued court protection is necessary. If the judge believes the petitioner has met this burden of proof, then a final PFA can be issued. Final PFA orders can be binding for up to three years.
What Can a Final Protection of Abuse Order Restrain?
If someone is named in a final protection from abuse order, then he or she can be restrained from several activities and can include:
- No threatening, abusive, or harassing behavior against the petitioner
- No living with the petitioner
- Child custody determinations by the judge
- The requirement to turn over any weapons
- No contact with anyone named in the PFA order
The defendant can also be required to pay the petitioner restitution for any costs incurred because of the abuse. Restitution can be for medical or therapy costs, as an example. If the judge has made a ruling on temporary custody, then that ruling can be revisited at a later hearing.
Who Can Seek a Protection from Abuse Order?
PFAs are only for people in specific relationships. The petitioner of a PFA must be in an intimate or family relationship with the defendant to qualify for a PFA. Examples of other qualifying relationships include:
- Current or former partners
- Current or former dating partner
- Current or former sexual partners
- Relatives that live together
- Same-sex couples
- Parents and their children
If a minor wants to request a PFA order, then the request must be made by an adult on their behalf. PFAs are only granted if there is a qualifying domestic relationship and will not be granted for any other type of situation.
How Protections from Abuse Are Filed in Centre County
If someone lives in Centre County and petitions for a protection from abuse order, then their petition must be filed at the Centre County Court of Common Pleas in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. The Court's physical address is:
102 S. Allegheny Street,
Bellefonte, PA 16823
The Protection from Abuse Office accepts filings on the second floor of the courthouse. The staff helps requesters fill out their petitions to be presented before the judge. Judges conduct hearings twice a day, every day, for the morning and afternoon court dockets. The Protection from Abuse Office can be reached at (814) 548-1107.
Once a petitioner completes and files their petition for a temporary PFA, then the petitioner must go in front of a judge in an ex parte hearing where only the petitioner will be heard. The judge will likely inquire about the alleged facts and circumstances discussed in the petition before making a final decision.
What Happens if Someone Violates a Protection from Abuse Order?
If a protection from abuse order violation is alleged, then the violation is treated as contempt of court. If the individual named in a PFA order violates the order in any way, then they will be arrested. He or she is entitled to a hearing within ten days to determine guilt or innocence of the alleged violation. If the individual is found guilty of violating the protection from abuse order, then he or she can face up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in court fines. A PFA violation can also violate bond in any pending criminal case.
What to Do If Facing a Protection from Abuse Petition
If you have been served with a temporary PFA and are facing a hearing for a final PFA, then it is important to speak to an experienced attorney right away. You have a limited time to prepare for your final PFA hearing. Make sure you present your best possible case at the beginning to avoid the restrictions of a PFA with the best possible legal help. If you have legal questions, then give us a call at the Lento Law Firm so we can help!
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you have questions about how to obtain a protection from abuse order in Centre County, then it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney. It is important to know how a protection from abuse order can affect your life and family. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the experience and knowledge that you need to help put you in the best position. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team are the right choice, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.