While some acts of violence are random, most involve people that already known one another. When people are in a domestic or family relationship, then the potential for violence increases. When people are abused within a family or intimate relationship, there is an increased risk for continued abuse due to the potential inability of the victim to find safety. In an effort to combat these risks of abuse, the Pennsylvania state legislature passed the Protection from Abuse Act in 1990.
Under the Protection from Abuse Act, those who are victims of abuse in a family or other intimate relationship can petition a court for a protection order. This protection order would restrain the alleged abuser from a certain action, contact, or other activity. If someone has requested a protection from abuse order against you, then your time is limited. It is imperative that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney about your situation as soon as possible.
What is a Protection from Abuse Order?
A protection from abuse order is a directive from a judge that has the ability to control where an individual can go, and what they can or cannot do regarding the plaintiff. A protection from abuse order can prevent or limit contact with anyone who claims they are a victim of physical or sexual assault at the hands of the defendant. When a protection from abuse order is put in place, then any violations of the order can result in immediate arrest and potential fines, and jail time. Protection from abuse orders are enforceable statewide.
How Protections from Abuse Are Filed in Northampton County
If an individual lives in Northampton County and is seeking a protection from abuse order, then petitions must be filed at the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas in Easton, Pennsylvania. The court's physical address is:
669 Washington Street,
Easton, PA 18042
The Protection From Abuse Office accepts filings from Monday through Friday from 8:30 am – 2:00 pm. The staff helps requesters fill out their paperwork during an extensive process at the courthouse. Judges conduct hearings every day in the morning and the afternoon at 9:30 am, and 2:30 pm for the respective morning and afternoon court dockets. The Protection From Abuse Office can be reached at (610) 829-6698.
Once the requester fills out the petition and turns it into the court, the requester will then be sent to a courtroom to go in front of a judge for a hearing. This hearing will be conducted ex parte, meaning that only one side will be heard and considered by the court. The judge may inquire about the facts and circumstances of the alleged situation before deciding whether to grant a protection from abuse order.
Recipients of a Protection from Abuse Order in Northampton County
Only those in qualifying domestic relationships can seek a protection from abuse order pursuant to the Act. This requires either an intimate or familial relationship with the claimed abuser. Relationships that qualify under the Act include:
- Current or former spouses
- Current or former dating 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 18 must have an adult file a petition on their behalf. The Protection from Abuse Act does not include the ability to get an order against strangers, friends, neighbors, roommates, co-workers, or classmates. Emotional or mental abuse is also not covered by the Protection from Abuse Act. If a protection from abuse order is granted, then a Sheriff's Deputy will then attempt to locate and serve a copy of the protection from abuse order on the defendant.
Protection from Abuse Order Process in Northampton County
In Northampton County and across the state of Pennsylvania, the process to get a protection from abuse is generally the same; the process is as follows:
- The requester petitions the court for a temporary protection from abuse and is immediately heard by a judge.
- If the judge agrees with the requester's petition, then the police will attempt to serve the protection from abuse order on the defendant, along with a hearing date for a final protection from abuse hearing.
- During a final protection from abuse hearing, both the plaintiff and defendant can present evidence supporting their positions.
A temporary protection from abuse order always comes first. Permanent protections from abuse orders will only be granted at a later hearing. A court will not grant a final protection from abuse order without giving the defendant an opportunity to defend themselves.
Temporary Protection from Abuse Order
When a requester pursues a protection from abuse order, the requester must first petition for a temporary order from a judge. This requires the requester to describe in detail why the requester 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 requester'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 Northampton County judge will preside over all Northampton 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 requester 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 have been served with a temporary protection from abuse order and are facing a hearing regarding a final order, then it is important to get an attorney's help quickly. Time is extremely limited in these situations as the court will look to hold these hearings within ten days of issuance of a temporary order. All the rules of evidence and court procedure govern these hearings, so you must be familiar with them if you plan on being successful. If you do not know how to properly admit evidence or testimony, then you will likely have trouble effectively presenting your case.
Final Protection from Abuse Order
At the end of a final protection from abuse hearing, the court will decide whether to grant a final order of protection from abuse. This order can remain in place for up to three years.
Final protection orders have extensive power, including the ability to:
- Order the defendant to immediately stop any threatening, abusive, or harassing behavior against the requester
- Order the defendant to leave from his or her home if it is shared with the requester
- Order temporary custody to the requester
- Order and outline any temporary visitation rights over any children in common
- Order the defendant to hand over any firearms to the court
- Order the defendant to have no contact or attempt any contact with anyone protected by the order
A final protection from abuse order can also require the defendant to pay restitution for any costs incurred because of the alleged abuse. If the judge awards temporary custody to the plaintiff, then the defendant can have a separate hearing to determine long-term custody. Any violation of a temporary or final protection from abuse order is considered contempt of court. A defendant has the right to a hearing on any alleged violations within 10 days. If the court finds that the defendant violated a protection from abuse order, then the court can sentence the defendant to jail for up to six months and a fine of up to $1,000.
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you have questions about a protection from abuse order against you, then it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney. It is important to know what the Northampton County Court is looking for when deciding whether to grant a protection from abuse. To learn why the Lento Law Firm is the right decision, call us at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.