When people are victims of abuse or sexual violence in Pennsylvania, they can seek protective orders from a court without the need to press criminal charges. These protective orders are known as protection from abuse orders. Protection from abuse orders became available when the Protection from Abuse Act was passed in Pennsylvania in 1990. When violence or abuse takes place within family or domestic relationships, protection from abuse orders can prevent the alleged abuser from having contact with the alleged victim, among other orders.
If you have been served with a protection from abuse order, then it is critical that you act quickly. Protection from abuse cases are processed quickly and require your immediate attention. If you are facing a protection from abuse order, then 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 order meant to protect victims of abuse or sexual violence from someone that they share a family or domestic relationship. If the PFA is granted, then the defendant can be prohibited from having contact with anyone named in the PFA order. To receive a PFA, a petitioner must allege physical abuse or sexual violence. When a PFA is granted, it is entered onto the police databases, and if a defendant is accused of violating a provision of a PFA, then the defendant will be arrested and criminally charged.
What are the Different Types of Protection from Abuse Orders?
There are two versions of protection from abuse orders, temporary and final. They both offer the same level of court protection but are granted on different standards and for different time periods.
Temporary Protection from Abuse
The first protection from abuse order that someone can ask for is a temporary protection from abuse. These orders are much more easily obtained than final protection from abuse orders because of their process and purpose. The process of a temporary protection from abuse is meant to favor alleged victims to encourage reporting.
If you are requesting the court for a protective order, then you are called the petitioner. If you are being accused of abuse or sexual violence in a petition for a protective order, then you are called the defendant. The petitioner must complete a petition that alleges and describes what type of abuse or sexual violence took place and how it happened. The court wants detail, and the judge will ask questions until he or she is satisfied with the alleged details in the case.
Once the petitioner files the paperwork listing the allegations, the court will bring the petitioner in before the judge for a hearing. This hearing will be conducted ex parte (without the other side present) to determine whether abuse or sexual violence took place and whether the petitioner needs immediate and ongoing protection from the defendant. The defendant is not allowed to appear or participate in this hearing, and neither is his or her attorney. Typically, both sides are heard in court cases. Temporary protection from abuse hearings are an exception to that rule as only one side is heard and considered.
After the hearing is completed, the judge will determine if the petitioner is the victim of abuse or sexual violence at the hands of the defendant. If the judge is convinced that a protective order is needed, then a temporary protection from abuse order can be granted. This order would be immediately enforceable until a final hearing takes place. Final protection from abuse hearings are typically set within ten days of a temporary order being granted by a judge. Final protection from abuse hearings are much fairer as both sides can be heard, and the defendant can appear and have an attorney represent him or her.
Final Protection from Abuse
Final protection from abuse hearings are similar to trials decided without a jury, having the judge act as referee and fact finder. Here, the judge sits in the place of a jury to decide what he or she believes happened in this situation. The rules of evidence and court rules must be followed in these hearings. Evidence can be admitted if relevant and deemed admissible by the court.
Both the petitioner and defendant can call witnesses and present evidence to present their cases. If you are a defendant and wish to testify, then you may do so with the understanding that your testimony could be used against you in investigating and authorizing potential criminal charges. The petitioner's testimony in a final protection from abuse hearing can also be used against them later in other proceedings by obtaining a transcript of the hearing.
The burden of proof is on the petitioner in final protection from abuse hearings. The petitioner must prove that it is more likely than not that he or she was abused or a victim of sexual violence at the hands of the defendant and that the court should continually protect the petitioner with a protective order. If a final protection from abuse order is granted by the judge, then it can last 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 any aggressive or harassing behavior against anyone named in the order
- Being removed from your home if you live with the petitioner or anyone else named in the order
- Having your ability to see your children limited or prevented through custody orders
- Losing your right to own a firearm
- Prohibiting any contact with the petitioner or anyone else named in the order
The judge can also order restitution if it is owed, and custody rulings in protection from abuse cases can be revisited at a later date.
Who Can Seek a Protection from Abuse Order?
If you are looking to get a protection from abuse order, then you must be in a family or domestic relationship with the alleged abuser. Specifically, anyone in a current or previous marriage, relationship, sexual relationship can seek a protection from abuse order, as well as any relatives that live together. It does not matter if the parties are related by marriage or by blood. If a minor wants to seek a protection from abuse order, then an adult must petition on their behalf.
How Protections from Abuse Are Filed in Lebanon County
If someone lives in Lebanon County and wants a PFA, then their petition must be filed at the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The Court's physical address is:
400 South 8th Street
Lebanon, PA 17042
The Prothonotary Office is where protection of abuse cases are initiated. A petitioner can call this office at (717) 228-4418 to schedule a time to come in and fill out the necessary paperwork.
What Happens if Someone Violates a Protection from Abuse Order?
Protection from abuse order violations can end up in criminal charges. Anytime someone violates a protection from abuse order, they are subject to arrest and prosecution. After someone is arrested on a protection from abuse order violation, they have the right to a hearing held within ten days to decide if the violation was committed. If the judge finds that the defendant violated the protection from abuse order, then he or she can be sentenced to as long as six months in jail by the judge along with up to a $1,000 fine. Protection from abuse orders are civil matters but can become criminal in nature if one isn't careful.
What to Do If Facing a Protection from Abuse Petition
Protection from abuse cases move quickly, so it is important that you get legal help right away. Once a petitioner is awarded a temporary protection from abuse, then the defendant is given approximately ten days to be ready for a hearing to determine if a final order should be put into place. If you are against this clock, then make sure you do everything in your power to present the strongest and most effective case. If you have legal questions, then call us at the Lento Law Firm so we can help!
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you have questions about protection from abuse orders in Lebanon County, then it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney. Make sure you understand the ramifications of a protection from abuse order. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the experience that you need to help put you in the best position in your case. 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.