Yes, Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act's Section 6105(e) creates a statewide registry known as the Protection from Abuse Database. Pennsylvania state and local police use lookups in that database to enforce PFA orders. PFA orders are also civil court records that employers, schools, creditors, and others may be able to readily access. It's not hard for the public to find out about a PFA order, even an old one that has long ago expired. You are far better to challenge a PFA request upfront before the court issues a final PFA order by retaining skilled and experienced Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney Joseph D. Lento. Don't expect to hide a PFA order without taking the necessary steps. You must defend and defeat the request for a final PFA with premier defense counsel so that any records that exist can be expunged at the applicable time.
Civil Orders Versus Criminal Records. Technically, a PFA order is a civil court record issued by a civil court judge in a civil proceeding. A PFA order is not a criminal conviction and thus not in a criminal history database. Because PFA orders are civil, they won't generally appear in a search or online lookup of a criminal arrest or conviction database. Be careful, though, to comply with all terms of any PFA order. The defendant who violates a PFA order risks a criminal contempt conviction under the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act's Section 6114. That criminal contempt conviction could then end up in a criminal conviction database and appear on a criminal history lookup. The PFA order itself is civil, not criminal. But don't let a civil PFA order's violation lead to your criminal contempt conviction.
The Searchable PFA Database. Even though PFA orders are civil, not criminal, PFA orders routinely appear in a searchable statewide database, also called a registry, that police use to locate and enforce PFA orders. Pennsylvania's original Protection from Abuse Act had no database or registry requirement. But amendments to the Act codified at Section 6105(e) and Section 6109(b) created county registries while the Pennsylvania State Police piloted and then implemented the statewide PFA registry known as the Protection from Abuse Database. Police indeed do have and regularly use a searchable statewide PFA database. Local police work with county court clerks to ensure that PFA orders find their way into the database. County-by-county implementation of the PFA forms that the statewide database requires can vary. Not every PFA order makes its way promptly into the statewide database. But in theory and in practice in most cases in most counties, a PFA order quickly shows up in the police-searchable database.
Police Use. Private individuals and entities, like employers, schools, and creditors, do not have access to Pennsylvania's statewide PFA database. The database serves as an enforcement mechanism, not a public information resource. The Act's Section 6105(e)(3) provides that “[t]he registry of the Pennsylvania State Police shall be available at all times to inform courts, dispatchers and law enforcement officers of any valid protection order involving any defendant.” The Act's Section 6105(e)(5) then places registry information outside the reach of Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law that would otherwise permit public access to government records. Your PFA order may well appear in the state police database. Police will promptly discover it on a lookup. But police access isn't the same as public access.
Civil Court Case Files. Yet if you have suffered a PFA order, don't get your hopes up that the public can't and won't discover it. PFA orders are a readily discoverable civil court record that generally will be provided by petitioning the applicable Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas that addressed the case. All that a private person or background check company, for example, needs to do is to search the county court's database of case names on file to discover the PFA proceeding against you. Once that private person or background check company has your case name and number, the person can gain access to the complete case file upon request, including the PFA complaint's worst allegations and the PFA order itself. Getting one's hands on the actual PFA order will take more than a simple online search, depending on the local county's efforts at digitizing case files, but the records are nonetheless readily available. A requester will have to contact the county court clerk to petition, and upon approval, order and pay for a physical copy of the PFA order or go to the court in person to read the records. But with a little ingenuity and effort, members of the public can locate and read your PFA order. You would be better to assume your PFA proceeding's discoverability and fight it now with the skilled representation of Pennsylvania PFA defense attorney Joseph D. Lento than to hope that no one discovers it later after you suffer the PFA order.
The Duration of Civil Case Files. Under the Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act's Section 6108, PFA orders generally last no more than three years. But that doesn't mean that a PFA order disappears from public records after three years. Instead, civil case filings, including a damning PFA complaint and embarrassing PFA order, usually last in perpetuity. Courts don't routinely destroy old case files. Case files instead go way back for decades. Anyone searching the civil filings could potentially find and read a very old and long-ago expired PFA order. Trying to have the court seal your civil case file isn't the answer. The Act's Section 6108.7(a) permits the civil court to seal a PFA case only when the defendant consented to the PFA order, complied with the order, and waited ten years after the order expired, without any PFA violation or other similar trouble. Pennsylvania case law also does not generally permit expungement of final PFA orders. You are probably stuck with any final PFA order that the court enters. Put simply, records related to a temporary PFA that does not become a final PFA can generally be requested to be expunged through a formal court process after the PFA case is over, but if a temporary PFA becomes a final PFA, either after trial or by agreement, records related to the case cannot generally be expunged.
Instead, Retain Counsel Up Front. You have good reason to fear that others will discover a PFA order entered against you. Employers, schools, creditors, licensing boards, and others who are interested in your good record and character may refuse to deal with you because of a PFA order. A PFA order could cause untold damage to your reputation, prospects, and career. Your better strategy than hoping no one discovers a PFA order entered against you is to contest the PFA request with your greatest resource. The moment you anticipate a potential PFA proceeding or learn of a PFA complaint already filed, you should retain a committed, skilled, and experienced PFA defense attorney. You need premier Pennsylvania PFA attorney Joseph D. Lento to represent you in your PFA proceeding. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or online for a prompt consultation with attorney Lento.