People facing criminal charges for assaults alleged to have been committed against family members, spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends, often find themselves also facing Protection from Abuse petitions. These are often referred to as “PFAs”. They are civil restraining orders that have criminal penalties if violated.
The Protection from Abuse Act defines abuse as physical abuse; a threat that places you in immediate fear of physical injury; or a pattern of conduct such as stalking which places you in immediate fear of physical injury. A PFA can be filed against you by someone who is a family member, spouse, your boyfriend/girlfriend, the parent of your child, your child, your parent, or anyone related to you by blood or marriage.
A PFA being entered against you can cause you to suffer any, and sometimes all, of the following:
- Be removed from your home or place of residence.
- Keep you from your place of work if the person filing it works there as well.
- Lose your firearms and carry permits for up to three years.
- Prohibit you from purchasing firearms for up to three years.
- You will have to pay the costs of the PFA filed against you, and possibly the lawyer fees of the person who filed the petition.
- Subject to immediate arrest if it is alleged you had any contact with the protected person who filed the PFA against you.
- Your children could be taken away from you.
There are three types of PFA Orders that can be issued against someone. An Emergency Order can be issued by a Magisterial District Judge during non-business hours when the Court of Common Pleas is closed. An Emergency Order remains in effect until the next business day of the Court of Common Pleas. An Ex-Parte Temporary Order can be issued by the Court of Common Pleas. This Order is based solely on the information provided by the person seeking the order, without the accused abuser being present. A Temporary Order remains in effect until the hearing before the Court of Common Pleas to determine if a Permanent PFA should be issued. A Permanent PFA Order can last up to three years. A Permanent PFA Order is only issued by the Court following a hearing which involves testimony by both parties, evidence, and witnesses.
The Pennsylvania State Police keep a registry of all Protection from Abuse orders and will enforce any valid PFA issued in any county. PFA’s are also enforceable in all fifty states. Local police agencies will also enforce a valid PFA if there is an allegation that the PFA was violated in their jurisdiction.
Violations of a PFA are charged as Petitions for Indirect Criminal Contempt. If you are convicted, or plead guilty, to a violation of any type of PFA Order you will face prison sentences up to six months, supervised probation, and a fine of at least $300 and up to $1,000 for each violation.