There's no doubt that domestic violence is a widespread problem in Pennsylvania and across the U.S. As a result, many states have developed legal processes to help protect family members facing abuse at home. In Pennsylvania, this process is called a protection from abuse order. A Protection from Abuse (PFA) order is a civil order issued by Pennsylvania courts to protect domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault victims. Domestic violence PFAs are the most common PFA orders in the state, also called protection or restraining orders. Protection from Abuse orders come from the Protection from Abuse Act, a 1990 Pennsylvania law that includes policies and regulations for the state and the parties to an order to follow during the PFA process. See Pa. Stat. 23 § 6101, et seq. (2018).
Protection from Abuse Process
Domestic violence PFAs are typically only available to parties in a current or former intimate relationship or marriage, members of the same family by blood or marriage, parents and children, same-sex couples, and those that have a child together. During the process, a judge will first issue an ex parte order based only upon the plaintiff's allegations of abuse against the defendant. This temporary order is only good for ten days or until the judge holds a final hearing on the PFA matter. To obtain a final PFA, the plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the parties have the requisite domestic relationship and that the defendant committed abuse or domestic violence.
Protection from Abuse Order is Civil
On the plus side, a PFA is a civil order and not a criminal matter. As a result, you won't have a criminal record. However, under the PFA statute, all PFA orders go into a statewide database:
"(1) The Pennsylvania State Police shall establish a Statewide registry of protection orders and shall maintain a complete and systematic record and index of all valid temporary and final court orders of protection, court-approved consent agreements and a foreign protection order filed pursuant to section 6104(d) (relating to full faith and credit and foreign protection orders). The Statewide registry shall include, but need not be limited to, the following:
(i) The names of the plaintiff and any protected parties.
(ii) The name and address of the defendant.
(iii) The relationship between the plaintiff and defendant.
(iv) The date the order was entered.
(v) The date the order expires.
(vi) The relief granted under sections 6108(a)(1), (2), (4), (6) and (7) (relating to relief) and 6110(a) (relating to emergency relief by minor judiciary).
(vii) The judicial district in which the order was entered.
(viii) Where furnished, the Social Security number and date of birth of the defendant.
(ix) Whether or not any or all firearms, other weapons or ammunition were ordered relinquished." Pa. Stat. 23 § 6105(e) (2018).
This database is available to the court system, law enforcement, and the general public under the state Right-to-Know law. This information may not appear on many standard background checks conducted by employers and landlords, but it will appear on more in-depth investigations. It's important to remember that while a PFA is a civil matter, violating a PFA is a criminal offense.
Some employers are exceptions to the general rule. Employers required by federal law to run criminal background checks and those employers that routinely use FBI background checks will typically see a PFA order against you. Moreover, you may be required to reveal the existence of a PFA order against you for some professional licenses.
If you have a law enforcement job or apply for one, they will complete an FBI background check and search the Pennsylvania database containing PFA orders. Because of federal and state limitations preventing someone with an active PFA from owning or possessing a firearm, an active PFA – or one that was active in the past – may prevent you from holding many law enforcement or court positions.
Unfortunately, a PFA can affect a military career, and the military will discover information about the PFA. While a temporary or final PFA order alone shouldn't be grounds for a military discharge, if your order states that you cannot possess a firearm, you cannot possess a weapon or ammunition even in the course of your official military duties. In some cases, your commanding officer may also decide that you should no longer be able to possess weapons or ammunition in the course of your duties once a PFA is in place. Therefore, a final PFA can be very limiting to a military career.
If you need a security clearance for your job, you will need to reveal the existence of a PFA against you, even if it was only temporary and the judge declined to extend the PFA to final status. If you fail to reveal the prior or current existence of a PFA on your security clearance paperwork, it can be a federal crime.
Many professional licenses require that you report the existence of a PFA against you, even if it's temporary. In some cases, you may even have a duty to report the PFA within 30 days, regardless of whether you need to renew your license. These restrictions can apply to doctors, nurses, dentists, and other careers with professional licensing requirements. While a PFA may not result in the automatic revocation of your license, you will still have to report it and undergo heightened scrutiny by the state licensing board.
Hire an Experienced Protection from Abuse Attorney in Pennsylvania
If you have a PFA order against you or if you're facing a hearing for a final PFA order, you need skilled legal expertise right away. The consequences of a PFA order can be long-lasting and affect your professional life. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has unparalleled experience defending Pennsylvanians from PFA orders and advising those facing professional repercussions. He can help you too. Give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-536-3686 or contact them online.