In most cases, violence occurs between people who know each other. When people are related or are intimate partners, the potential for violence only increases. When violence occurs between family members or intimate partners, there is an increased risk for the violence to continue due to the inability of the victim to get to safety. In an effort to curb this risk, the Pennsylvania state legislature passed the Protection from Abuse Act in 1990.
Under this law, alleged victims of violent relationships can seek a protection order from a court that restrains the ability of the alleged abuser from having any contact. If you are facing a protection from abuse order or hearing, 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 given by a judge that restrains an individual from having any contact with another person due to alleged domestic or sexual violence on that person. If a protection from abuse order is granted by a judge, any contact or attempted contact with the person protected by the order can result in the immediate arrest of the individual the order is meant to restrain. Protection from abuse orders are enforced statewide and a court will also recognize a valid protection order granted from a foreign court.
How Protections from Abuse Are Filed in Lehigh County
If an individual is seeking a protection from abuse order in Lehigh County, then they must file their application at the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The court's physical address is:
455 West Hamilton Street,
Allentown, PA 18101
The court accepts requests within the Protection from Abuse Office Monday through Friday from 8:00 am – 2:00 pm. The staff in this office assists applicants in filling out their paperwork during a lengthy process at the courthouse.
After a petition for a protection from abuse is filed, the applicant will then be taken to a courtroom where a judge will conduct an ex parte hearing. An ex parte hearing is one where only one side is present and heard by the judge. The judge may question the applicant until he or she is satisfied that a protection from abuse should be ordered. If an applicant arrives after 2:00 pm, then he or she will be referred to a Magisterial District Judge to be heard.
Recipients of a Protection from Abuse Order in Lehigh County
Protection from abuse orders are only available to those who are in qualifying domestic relationship. A qualifying domestic relationship involves either an intimate or family relationship with the alleged abuser. Examples of qualifying relationships include:
- Spouses and former spouses
- Current or former intimate partners
- Current or former sexual partners
- Blood relatives that live in the same household
- Relatives by marriage that live in the same household
- Same-sex couples
- Parents and their kids
Anyone under the age of 18 must have an adult file a protection from abuse order on their behalf. Protections from abuse orders are not available between strangers, friends, neighbors, roommates, co-workers, or classmates. If the petition is granted by the judge, the applicant will be escorted to the office of the Clerk of Judicial Records where the protection from abuse will be processed by the court. Once the orders are filed, the applicant will then be escorted to the Sheriff's Office to provide any additional information required. A Sheriff's Deputy will then serve a copy of the protection from abuse on the defendant.
Protection from Abuse Order Process in Lehigh County
The general process for protections from abuse is fairly similar across the state of Pennsylvania. In Lehigh County, the process is as follows:
- The applicant applies for a temporary protection from abuse and is heard in an ex parte hearing or an emergency hearing by a judge.
- If the protection from abuse is granted by the judge, the order is served on the defendant by a Lehigh County Sheriff's Deputy, and he or she is given a hearing date regarding a final protection from abuse order.
- A hearing is held regarding whether a final protection from abuse should be granted by the judge. Both sides may participate and present evidence during this hearing.
It is important to note that a court will first issue a temporary protection from abuse order and determine whether a final protection from abuse order is necessary at a later hearing. A court will not issue a final protection from abuse order without first issuing a temporary one.
Temporary Protection from Abuse Order
When an applicant seeks a protection from abuse order, the applicant must first obtain a temporary order from a judge. To do so, the applicant must file a petition describing why the applicant needs protection from the defendant. The applicant will be asked to describe the alleged physical or sexual abuse in detail. Specifics such as time, date, and location of the alleged conduct are also expected by the court when an applicant is seeking a protection from abuse order.
The court will also inquire about what the applicant wants regarding the defendant. This hearing is ex parte, and the defendant will not be present nor will he or she be heard before a decision is made by the judge. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will decide if protection is needed, and if so, will issue a temporary protection from abuse against the defendant. This order will be active until a final protection from abuse hearing occurs. Final hearings typically take place within ten days of the decision granting the temporary order.
Hearing Process for a Protection from Abuse Order
A final protection from abuse will not be granted until a hearing takes place. In Lehigh County, this hearing will take place in front of a Lehigh County judge. Both sides are given an opportunity to present their cases where admissible evidence and testimony can be offered to the court. For an applicant to be successful, he or she must prove to the court that domestic violence occurred by a preponderance of evidence standard. This standard is lower than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard that exists in criminal cases.
A preponderance of evidence proves that the alleged conduct was more likely to have occurred than not. It is recommended to have an attorney represent you at a hearing for protection from abuse if you are facing a possible protection order. The court will hold the hearing in open court and will require both sides to follow the typical rules and procedures of the court. If you are not familiar with these rules, then you will be at a disadvantage as the judge will not bend the rules to accommodate you. If you are unable to properly admit evidence or testimony, then you will likely be unable to present the best possible defense to win your hearing.
Final Protection from Abuse Order
At the conclusion of a final protection from abuse hearing, the court will decide whether to grant a final protection order. If a final protection from abuse order is granted, then it can be valid for up to three years. The order can contain several conditions and requirements regarding the defendant, including:
- Requiring the defendant to cease all threatening, abusing, or harassing behavior against the plaintiff
- Requiring the defendant to leave the home that is shared with the plaintiff
- Granting temporary custody of any children in common to the plaintiff
- Requiring the defendant to turn over any weapons owned by the defendant to the court
- No contact towards anyone listed in the order
The court can also keep the plaintiff's address confidential from the defendant and can grant any other relief that it deems appropriate. If temporary custody is granted, then a custody hearing can be set to make a final determination on custody. Once a final protection from abuse order is granted, it will then be shared across all law enforcement networks in case of any alleged violation. Any alleged violation of a protection from abuse order is considered contempt of court and a hearing will be scheduled before the judge within ten days of the alleged violation.
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you have questions about a protection from abuse order, then it is important that you have an experienced attorney on your side. It is important to know what the Lehigh County Court is looking for when determining 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 for success. To learn why attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm is the right choice, call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.