Violence all too often happens between people who know one another. The potential for abuse between intimate partners or family members is even higher due to several reasons. When people within the circle of intimate relationships and family are abused, there is an increased risk for continued abuse. The Pennsylvania state legislature recognized these increased risks and passed the Protection from Abuse Act in 1990.
Pursuant to the Act, alleged victims of abuse can petition for a protection order from a court that restrains the alleged abuser from acting in various ways or having contact. If someone has filed a protection from abuse petition against you, then it is important that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
What is a Protection from Abuse Order?
A protection from abuse order is an order made by a court that can restrain an individual in various ways, including having contact with an alleged victim of domestic or sexual assault. If a court grants a protection from abuse petition, then the person named in the order is subject to arrest for any violations of the order. Protection from abuse orders are enforceable across the state of Pennsylvania.
How Protections from Abuse Are Filed in Berks County
If an individual is seeking a protection from abuse order in Berks County, then they must file their application at the Berks County Court of Common Pleas in Reading, Pennsylvania. The Court's physical address is:
633 Court Street,
Reading, PA 19601
The Protection From Abuse Office is open Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 4:00 pm. The staff helps petitioners fill out their paperwork during an extensive process at the courthouse. The Court accepts petitioners in the morning and the afternoon with deadlines of 11:30 am, and 2:30 pm for the respective morning and afternoon court dockets. Protection from abuse filing hours are 8:00 am – 2:00 pm from Monday through Friday.
Once the petitioner completes the petition and appropriately files it, the petitioner will then head to a courtroom to go before a judge for an ex parte hearing. Ex parte hearings only include one side to be heard by the judge. The judge may question the petitioner about the facts and circumstances to determine if a protection from abuse should be ordered. If a petitioner arrives after 2:00 pm, then he or she will be referred to a Magisterial District Judge to be heard. If a petitioner wishes to file a petition after 6:00 pm on weekdays, weekends, and holidays, then they can go to Reading Central Court on the 1st floor to apply for an emergency protection from abuse.
Recipients of a Protection from Abuse Order in Berks County
You must be in a qualifying domestic relationship to qualify for a protection from abuse order. This includes either an intimate or familial relationship with the purported abuser. Examples of qualifying relationships include:
- Current or former husbands and wives
- Current or former dating partners
- Current or former sexual partners
- Blood relatives that live together
- Relatives by marriage that live together
- Same-sex couples
- Parents and children
If a child under the age of 18 wishes to petition for a protection from abuse, then an adult must file it on their behalf. You cannot get a protection from abuse when dealing with strangers, friends, neighbors, roommates, co-workers, or classmates. If a protection from abuse order is granted by the judge, the petitioner will then head to the Berks Sheriff's Office to provide any additional information as required. A Sheriff's Deputy will then locate and serve a copy of the protection from abuse order on the defendant.
Protection from Abuse Order Process in Berks County
In Berks County and across the state of Pennsylvania, the procedure for a protection from abuse is pretty consistent; the procedure is as follows:
- The petitioner petitions the court for a temporary protection from abuse and is heard in an ex parte or emergency hearing by a judge.
- If the judge grants the petition, then the protection from abuse order is served on the defendant, along with a hearing date to determine whether a final protection from abuse order is necessary.
- A final protection from abuse hearing takes place to determine if an order should be issued by the court. Both sides are allowed to present a case during this hearing.
A temporary protection from abuse order will always come before any final order. The court will determine whether a final protection from abuse order is needed at a later hearing. A court will not grant a final protection from abuse order before issuing a temporary one first.
Temporary Protection from Abuse Order
When a petitioner pursues a protection from abuse order, the petitioner must first petition for a temporary order from a judge. This requires the petitioner to describe in detail why the petitioner needs the court to protect them from the defendant. The alleged physical or sexual abuse must be described in detail in the petition. Important details such as time, date, and location of the alleged abuse will also be expected to be described in any petition for a protection from abuse order.
The judge will want to know the petitioner's requests regarding the restraint of the defendant named in the petition. The judge will conduct this first hearing ex parte, without the defendant or attorney present. The judge will decide if a protection order is necessary and will issue a temporary protection from abuse and a hearing regarding a final order within ten days. The temporary protection from abuse order serves to protect the plaintiff until the final hearing.
Hearing Process for a Protection from Abuse Order
A formal hearing is required before a final protection from abuse order is granted. A Berks County judge will preside over all Berks County protection from abuse hearings. Pursuant to court rule, both plaintiff and defendant will be permitted to present their cases to the judge. This can involve the admission of evidence, testimony, or both. The petitioner must prove beyond a preponderance of evidence standard that domestic violence of some kind occurred. This standard is common in civil court and is lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard that is typical of criminal cases.
To meet a preponderance of evidence, it must be shown that something more likely than not occurred, or just over 50%. If you are facing a hearing for a final protection from abuse order, then it is important that you have an attorney's assistance. The hearing will be conducted pursuant to court rule and procedure, and the judge will not break these rules to accommodate an unrepresented party. If you do not have experience using these rules, then you will be at a disadvantage against any lawyer. If you cannot properly admit evidence or testimony pursuant to court rules and procedure, then you will likely be unable to present your case to properly defend yourself during your hearing.
Final Protection from Abuse Order
Once the hearing concludes, the judge will decide whether a final protection from abuse order is warranted. If so, then the order can be valid for up to three years from the date it is issued.
A final protection from abuse order can restrain a defendant in several ways, including:
- Requiring the defendant to immediately discontinue any threatening, abusive, or harassing behavior against the plaintiff
- Requiring the defendant to leave any shared housing with the plaintiff
- The plaintiff can be awarded temporary custody be given temporary visitation rights over any children in common
- Requiring the defendant to submit any guns or other deadly weapons to the court
- No contact or attempted contact with anyone named in the order
The court can also order the defendant to reimburse the plaintiff for any out-of-pocket costs suffered as a result of the abuse. If temporary custody is granted, then a hearing can be set to determine custody. Once a final protection from abuse order is granted, then any violations are considered contempt of court. If a violation is alleged, then a hearing will be scheduled before the judge within ten days of the alleged violation. If the defendant is found in contempt, then they face up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you have questions about protection from abuse orders, then it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney. It is important to know what Berks County Court judges are seeking when deciding whether to grant a protection from abuse order. The attorneys at the Lento Law Firm have the experience and knowledge that you need to help put you in the best position. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm are the right choice, call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.