If someone is the victim of abuse or sexual violence, then he or she is not required to file criminal charges to get protection from the court. Protective orders can be obtained through a protection from abuse order petition. Previous to the enactment of the Protection from Abuse Act, which was passed in Pennsylvania in 1990, protective orders like this were only available if criminal charges were filed. Protection from abuse orders are now available to those who allege abuse from a family member or domestic partner. A protection from abuse order can outlaw contact as well as several other actions by the alleged abuser.
Protection from abuse cases are treated by the court system as immediate emergencies. Because of this, protection from abuse cases don't take long to complete. If you are served with a protection from abuse order, then you have days before your hearing takes place. If you are facing protection from abuse proceedings, then it is important to 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 an ordered protection by a judge in a Pennsylvania court. These orders are available to victims independent of any criminal allegations or charges. The main eligibility requirement is that the people involved in the case are in a qualifying domestic relationship.
When someone petitions the court for this protection, he or she must allege that the defendant committed abuse or sexual violence. The court must also be convinced that continued protection from the court is necessary for the safety of the accuser. If the court grants a protection from abuse order, then its provisions are immediately enforceable. A defendant is subject to arrest and prosecution for any violations of a protection from abuse order.
What are the Different Types of Protection from Abuse Orders?
Two types of protection from abuse orders exist in Pennsylvania. There are other types of protective orders that can be obtained in other situations. For protection from abuse orders, there are temporary and final orders that can be granted by a court. These orders both do the same thing but are determined after different legal processes, which is explained below:
Temporary Protection from Abuse
Temporary protection from abuse orders are the first type of protective order available to petitioners. The person seeking protection from the court is known as the petitioner while the person being accused of abuse is known as the defendant. Petitioners can go through a quick process to obtain a temporary protection from abuse . They must allege to the court that abuse or sexual violence took place at the hands of the defendant both on paper and in a court hearing. The judge will likely ask several questions to determine if an order should be granted.
Once a petition is filed, then the petitioner will go before a judge for a one-party hearing known as an ex parte hearing. The defendant is not allowed at these hearings and cannot have anyone appear on their behalf. In this hearing, the judge will question the petitioner to determine if immediate protection is needed. The judge must be convinced that the petitioner is a victim of abuse or sexual violence and that continued protection is necessary. It is the petitioner's job to convince the judge of these things.
Once a temporary protection from abuse is ordered, then the court will schedule a date to determine whether the temporary order should be made permanent. These permanent orders are known as final protection from abuse orders, which are described as follows:
Final Protection from Abuse
Final protection from abuse orders are the second and much more powerful type of protection from abuse order available to petitioners. Final protection from abuse hearings typically take place within ten days after a temporary order is granted by the court. These hearings involve both parties where both parties can present their cases to the presiding judge. Final protection from abuse hearings are governed by the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence and appropriate court rules. The presiding judge makes the final decision on whether to grant a final protection from abuse. Final protection from abuse hearings are bench “trials” that decide whether protective orders should be authorized.
Final protection from abuse hearings resemble trials in their format, where both sides can present witnesses, evidence, and can testify on their own behalf. These hearings are recorded and are conducted in open court. Any testimony given at this hearing can be made into a transcript to use at other hearings or investigations. Make sure you have consulted with legal counsel before you decide to testify at any hearing.
The burden of proof in final protection from abuse hearings is on the petitioner. This means that the petitioner is responsible that the allegations of abuse or sexual violence took place and that the defendant committed the acts alleged. The level of proof needed is a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the judge must be convinced that the petitioner is more likely than not telling the truth. The petitioner must also demonstrate that continued court protection is needed. If a judge grants a final protection from abuse order, then its protections are valid for up to three years and can be renewed infinitely.
What Can a Final Protection of Abuse Order Restrain?
Final protection from abuse orders can significantly alter the freedom of activity of the defendant. The defendant can be prohibited from doing many things, including having contact with the petitioner or anyone else named in the order. The defendant can be forced out of his or her home if the petitioner and defendant live together. Child custody determinations can also be made by the judge in a protection from abuse case. The court will also require the defendant to turn over any weapons to the court while protection from abuse orders are pending.
Who Can Seek a Protection from Abuse Order?
Protection from abuse orders are meant for limited situations that involve people who are close intimately or are family. Only those in “qualifying domestic relationships” can be protected by the court in a protection from abuse order. Examples of qualifying domestic relationships include those that are dating, married, sexual partners, or are family members that live together. These orders are not meant for other types of cases where the parties are not close in this way. If abuse or sexual violence takes place, then a protection from abuse order can be authorized by the court. If a minor under the age of 18 needs a protection from abuse, then an adult has to file for them.
How Protections from Abuse Are Filed in Northumberland County
If someone lives in Northumberland County and wants a PFA, then their petition must be filed at the Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. More specifically, the petition must be filed with the Prothonotary's Office. The Court's physical address is:
201 Market St.
Sunbury, PA 17801
Anyone seeking a protection from abuse order in Northumberland County must fill out a lengthy application. This application is meant to inform the judge of the allegations and the relationship between the parties. The petitioner can go see the judge to request a protective order after a complete application is submitted.
What Happens if Someone Violates a Protection from Abuse Order?
If someone has a protection from abuse order entered against them, it is treated as a civil matter and does not appear on any criminal records. If someone violates a protection from abuse order, then he or she will be arrested and criminally prosecuted. Both of these occurrences will appear on a criminal record. The punishment for violating a protection from abuse order is up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine. Defendants can contest any alleged violations in a hearing that takes place within ten days of the defendant's arrest for the violation. All protection from abuse violation hearings are decided by judges, not juries as there are no juries permitted. If you are being accused of violating a protection from abuse order, then make sure you act fast. 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 Northumberland County, then make sure you speak to an experienced attorney. It is important you understand the effects of a protection from abuse order. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm have the experience you need to help put you in the best position to defend your case. To learn why the Lento Law Firm is the right choice, call at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.