If someone is the victim of abuse or sexual violence at the hands of a family member or intimate partner, then he or she can petition for a protective order from the court. This protective order is known as a protection from abuse. Protection from abuse orders are authorized under the Protection from Abuse Act which was passed in Pennsylvania in 1990. If someone obtains a protection from abuse order, then the order can prohibit the alleged abuser from several actions, including having or attempting any contact with the petitioner or anyone else named in the order.
Protection from abuse cases move much faster than most types of cases. Hearings take place within days compared to months for most other types of cases. If you are facing a protection from abuse order, then make sure you get in contact with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.
What is a Protection from Abuse Order?
Protections from abuse (PFA) orders are protective orders that a court can grant to ensure the safety of the person seeking the order. Protection from abuse orders are only available to people that are in specific relationships with the alleged abuser. The parties involved must be in an intimate or family relationship with one another.
To receive a protection from abuse order, the petitioner must claim physical abuse or sexual violence at the hands of an individual in a qualifying domestic relationship. The court must be convinced that the violence occurred and that continued protection from the court is necessary to ensure the safety of the petitioner or others listed in the petition. If a protection from abuse is granted, then law enforcement will arrest the defendant if any violations are alleged. Protection from abuse order violations can also result in criminal charges.
What are the Different Types of Protection from Abuse Orders?
Protection from abuse orders come in two varieties that both offer the petitioner protection from the court: temporary protection from abuse orders and final protection from abuse orders. These orders are granted on different legal standards and can last for different amounts of time. They are explained below:
Temporary Protection from Abuse
If someone wants a protection from abuse order, then a temporary protection from abuse order is the first one that is available. Temporary protection from abuse orders are fairly easy to obtain as long as the petitioner tells a believable version of events. The process to obtain a temporary order allows for quick protection from the court.
Petitioners in protection from abuse cases are the individuals who are asking the court for protection. Defendants in protection from abuse cases are the individuals who are being accused of abuse. Petitioners have the burden to prove to the judge what happened, so it is required that petitioners write a complete description of events in their applications. The judge will likely ask several questions to help determine if a temporary order is warranted.
The court holds protection from abuse hearings after petitions are filed for protective orders. These hearings are conducted ex parte, with only the petitioner present. Ex parte hearings are hearings that are conducted with only one side in a case. The defendant in a temporary protection from abuse hearing does not have a right to appear, be heard, or have an attorney appear on his or her behalf.
In this hearing, the petitioner must satisfactorily convince a judge that he or she is the victim of abuse or sexual violence and that the defendant is the aggressor. The judge can grant the order if the judge believes the petitioner and believes that continued petitioner's continued protection is necessary. If the order is granted, then it is effective as soon as the judge signs the order. The next step in the process is the final protection from abuse hearing. This hearing typically takes place within ten days of the granting of the temporary protection from abuse order. Final protection from abuse orders are only granted after the completion of a hearing that involves both sides and not just the petitioner as with a temporary order.
Final Protection from Abuse
Final protection from abuse orders are decided after a hearing that is similar to a nonjury trial. Defendants in protection from abuse cases are not given the right to a jury trial. This leaves judges in a dual role where they are both the finder of fact and the umpire. The judge will rule on objections, decide what evidence can be admitted, and choose what to believe happened based on the hearing.
Pennsylvania court rules and the rules of evidence are followed in final protection from abuse order hearings. Sworn and recorded testimony is given at these hearings. If someone testifies, then the transcript of that testimony can be obtained to be later used in other proceedings. Defendants have the right to testify in final protection from abuse hearings but do so at their own risk because their testimony can be used against them in criminal matters.
The petitioner carries the burden of proof to obtain a final protection from abuse order. This means that the petitioner has to prove that a protection from abuse is necessary. This also means that the defendant does not have to prove innocence or technically prove anything. The petitioner must demonstrate to the judge that he or she is a victim of abuse or sexual violence by the defendant by a preponderance of the evidence standard. This standard requires the petitioner to prove that the abuse more likely than not took place and that the court should continue to protect the petitioner. Final protection from abuse orders can be good for up to three years.
What Can a Final Protection of Abuse Order Restrain?
If you are the defendant in a protection from abuse order, then your behavior and activities can be restrained by the court in several ways if the order is granted, including:
- Prohibiting aggressive or harassing behavior
- Prohibiting living with anyone protected by the order
- Child custody and visitation determinations by the judge
- Temporarily losing the right to own a gun
- Prohibiting contact with anyone protected by the order
Child custody issues can be reviewed by a judge later to determine more permanent arrangements.
Who Can Seek a Protection from Abuse Order?
Protection from abuse orders are specifically reserved for people in qualifying domestic relationships. Examples of qualifying domestic relationships include marriages, dating or sexual relationships, and/or family members. Abuse or sexual violence must be alleged to obtain a protection from abuse order. You cannot seek a protection from abuse order against someone who is an acquaintance, coworker, or stranger. An adult must petition on behalf of any minor under 18 years of age that wants a protection from abuse order.
How Protections from Abuse Are Filed in Lackawanna County
If someone lives in Lackawanna County and wants a PFA, then their petition must be filed at the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The Court's physical address is:
200 N Washington Ave
Scranton, PA 18503
A petitioner must first head to the protection from abuse office at the court to determine eligibility. The petitioner will be asked the following questions:
- Where do you live and work in Lackawanna County?
- What is your relationship with the alleged abuser?
- What has the alleged abuser done to warrant protection from the court?
These questions are used to qualify the petitioner. The petitioner is then given a lengthy information sheet to include with the petition. If the petitioner is qualified, then he or she can go before the judge to seek a protective order.
What Happens if Someone Violates a Protection from Abuse Order?
If someone is accused of violating a protection from abuse order, then this will result in immediate arrest and likely prosecution. Protection from abuse order violations are criminal in nature and can result in up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. A defendant in a violation case has the right to a hearing within ten days to determine guilt or innocence. No juries are permitted in these hearings, and the final determinations will be made by the presiding judge. If you are facing a violation, then make sure you do everything in your power to present your case effectively.
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you have questions about protection from abuse orders in Lackawanna County, then make sure you speak to an experienced attorney. It is important you understand how this order can affect you. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have the experience that you need to help put you in the best position in your case. To learn why the Lento Law Firm is the right choice, call 888-535-3686 or contact us online.