If you are facing a potential protection from abuse (PFA) order, it is understandable if you have questions about what might happen next. The process can be confusing, especially for anyone that has never experienced it. It is vital to understand the PFA process, however, given that the result could impact your ability to make a living, see your children, or exercise your constitutional rights.
In most cases, the critical moment during this process is at the PFA hearing itself. This is where the court will review each side's evidence and make their determination. Below, we discuss what you might expect when appearing at a Pennsylvania PFA hearing. While this outline can help you understand the broad strokes of the process, it is vital that you discuss the specifics of your situation with attorney Joseph D. Lento right away.
Understanding PFA Hearings
The PFA is typically the final step in the Pennsylvania restraining order process. When a complaining witness files a complaint, a judge will typically enter an “emergency” PFA order against the accused. However, this temporary order only lasts until the court can carefully review the case and make a final determination. This final determination occurs at the PFA hearing.
The PFA hearing occurs a short time after the initial order is entered. At the hearing, both sides have the opportunity to put on evidence or call witnesses. While similar to trial, facing a PFA hearing does not mean you have been charged with a crime.
When it comes to the evidence at these hearings, you could expect to see a wide range of testimony or documents. It is possible that either side could introduce medical records in there are alleged injuries involved. Testimony from a responding police officer could also be used depending on the circumstances.
It should be noted that many hearings involve little more than the testimony of the complaining witness. After all, the Supreme Court has held that a petitioner's testimony alone could be sufficient to lead to a PFA. That does not mean the court will believe every aspect of the petitioner's testimony. It is the trial court's job to weigh the evidence offered by both sides before determining if it is sufficient to require a PFA order.
When the court reaches their decision, they do so based on the “preponderance of the evidence” standard. This is a lower standard than a criminal trial, meaning there are cases where the evidence is sufficient for a PFA order but not a criminal conviction.
There are two outcomes that can follow a PFA hearing. The first involves the judge siding with the petitioner and issuing a full PFA order that extends the effect of the temporary order. Alternatively, the court could side with the accused and dismiss the petition entirely.
Put your Case in the Hands of an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney Joseph D. Lento has dedicated his career for fighting for the rights of the accused. To discuss your potential defense options following the issuance of a temporary PFA, Contact Joseph D. Lento online or at 888-535-3686 today.