Domestic violence is an issue across the U.S., and Carbon County in Pennsylvania is no exception. To tackle the issue, the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Protection from Abuse Act in 1990. The legislation's goal was to protect both victims of domestic violence and sexual assault from their assailants. The law created a protective order process that allows victims to obtain a “Protection from Abuse” order (PFA) from the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas to protect themselves. A PFA can prevent someone from approaching or contacting a victim and provide for child custody and financial support. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018).
PFAs don't cover emotional abuse in the absence of a threat of bodily harm, but they do apply for:
- “Causing or attempting to cause bodily injury or sexual assault, or
- Placing another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury, or
- Subjecting another person to false imprisonment, or
- Engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts against another person, including following that person without proper authority, under circumstances that place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury, or
- Physically or sexually abusing minor children.”
Filing a PFA in Carbon County
In Carbon County, petitioners may apply for a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order at the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.
Carbon County Courthouse
Jim Thorpe, PA 18229
The phone number for the courthouse is 570-325-2481.
The applicant will go to the Prothonotary's Office on the first floor of the Carbon County Courthouse, which is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm. After completing the application for a PFA, the Prothonotary's Office staff will take the applicant to see a judge for an ex parte hearing. Ex parte means only the applicant will be present; you won't have the right to appear or receive notice of the hearing. At the hearing, the judge will review the application and decide whether to grant a temporary PFA order.
The application should contain information, including the alleged abuse's date, time, and location. If it does not, the judge may deny the temporary order but still set a date for a final PFA hearing. The Sheriff will then notify you, the defendant, of the temporary PFA order and serve a copy of the petition, a notice of the final hearing, and the PFA order. The Sheriff's office will also notify the applicant once they've served you.
When the Prothonotary's Office isn't open, applicants can call their local police department and ask for assistance filing for an emergency PFA while the court is closed. The police will contact a local magisterial on-call judge to assist. If the magisterial judge issues the emergency PFA order, it only remains active until the next business day when the court is open.
Recipients of a PFA Order in Carbon County
To get a PFA in Carbon County, the applicant must have an intimate or family relationship with the defendant. PFAs aren't available in Pennsylvania for strangers, co-workers, or neighbors. Relationships that qualify for PFAs include:
- A child of the applicant or defendant,
- A household member, former household member, or family member,
- Someone the applicant shares a child with,
- A former or current intimate partner,
- A current or former spouse, or
- A sibling.
PFA Process in Carbon County
The PFA process in Carbon County is similar to many other counties in Pennsylvania, which typically follows the same process:
- The applicant requests a PFA against you and then attends an ex parte hearing with a judge. The judge will determine whether they believe there may have been abuse, decide whether to grant a temporary PFA, and set a hearing for a final PFA.
- The Sherriff serves you with the temporary PFA order, the petition filed against you, and a notice of the date for the final hearing.
- You can attend the final PFA hearing before the judge and tell your side of the story through witnesses and evidence. The applicant will do so as well, and then the judge will decide whether to issue a final PFA.
The Temporary Protection From Abuse Order
An application for a PFA begins with a petition at the Carbon County Courthouse in the Prothonotary's Office. The application should contain the specific abuse allegations, including the details like the time, date, and place of the alleged abuse. The application must also tell the court why they believe they need protection from a PFA.
After filing a petition, the applicant will see a magistrate in a hearing to determine whether the court should grant a temporary PFA order. This hearing will take place with only one party present, meaning it is an ex parte hearing. You won't have the right to attend the hearing, and the court won't notify you in advance. In the hearing, if the judge believes that the petitioner needs protection from you, the judge will grant the temporary PFA order. Even if the judge doesn't grant the temporary PFA, the court will set a date for a final PFA hearing. The temporary PFA will stay in effect for about ten days when the final hearing takes place.
Final Protection From Abuse Order Hearing
Your final PFA hearing will take place before a judge in the Carbon County Court of Common Pleas. In this hearing, the judge will make a final ruling on whether to grant the final PFA and what provisions to include in the order. Both you and the petitioner will have the right to attend the hearing. But if you don't appear, the judge may rule against you after only hearing the petitioner's story. This final PFA can remain in place for up to three years.
During the final hearing, your attorney can cross-examine the petitioner's witnesses and question their evidence. You can also present your story to the court through witnesses and evidence. The petitioner needs to prove their case and prove that abuse happened “by a preponderance of the evidence.” A “preponderance of the evidence” is a lower standard than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” used in criminal trials. The petitioner will simply need to prove that the abuse is more likely to have happened than not.
While you don't have to have an attorney, this is a formal court proceeding, and the court will expect you to follow the rules of evidence and the court. This process can be quite difficult to navigate without an attorney successfully. That's why you need an experienced criminal defense lawyer by your side.
The Final Protection From Abuse Order in Carbon County
If the judge grants a final PFA, it can remain in place for up to three years, preventing you from contacting the plaintiff or coming near them. The final PFA can affect your career, a professional license if you have one, or your education. If you have children, the PFA can prevent you from having custody and, in some circumstances, your ability to see them.
The final PFA can also order you to provide financial support to the petitioner and your children, continue paying a mortgage or rent, and other financial obligations. The police will also confiscate any firearms you own or possess.
If the judge issues a final PFA against you, you'll also be responsible for court costs and fees, as well as the fees for the Sheriff's Office to serve you. If you fail to pay the fees, the court can turn the debt over to a collection agency.
Carbon County PFA Violations
A PFA in Pennsylvania is a civil rather than a criminal matter. That means that a PFA won't appear on your criminal record. However, this information will be in a statewide database that can appear on more detailed background checks and FBI background checks. Your employer, or prospective employers, may find out about the PFA.
Violating a PFA order against you is a criminal violation, even if your violation was accidental or unintentional. A message on Facebook or Instagram, a phone call, even a text to the petitioner can result in your arrest. If you're found guilty of violating a PFA, it is “indirect criminal contempt,” and you will face up to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail.
Hire an Experienced PFA Attorney in Carbon County
If you are facing a final PFA hearing in Carbon County, you need professional guidance. A PFA hearing isn't something you can ignore or handle on your own. You'll need an experienced criminal defense attorney well versed in handling restraining order litigation to avoid the long-lasting consequences of having a PFA order against you. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a skilled defense attorney with years of experience representing those accused of domestic violence and defending them against PFAs in Pennsylvania. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888-536-3686 or contact them online to set up a consultation.