Domestic Violence and Protection from Abuse Orders (PFA) in Pennsylvania
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that nearly 3 in 10 women and 1 in 10 men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by a domestic partner or spouse and report that the violence negatively impacted them in some way (e.g., made them feel fearful or concerned for their safety, resulted in an injury or need for services, or they lost days from work or school). Additionally, such acts resulted in 1,336 deaths in 2010 alone, accounting for 10% of all homicides. 82% of those deaths were women, and 18% were men. The medical care, mental health services, and lost productivity cost of this violence was estimated to be approximately $8.3 billion. Clearly, Domestic Violence is a significant problem in our society, and sadly, it has becomes worse in recent years with the economic depression facing our nation. People often become stressed over money or housing, and rather than communicating effectively, they resort to infighting and arguing, which leads to violence. Other factors contribute to the problem, including poverty, lack of education, and put simply, relational domineering and abuse. There are many organization dedicated to learning about and prevent domestic violence in the United States generally, and specifically, in Pennsylvania. Most notably, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence is working toward broader education and prevention, especially encouraging state action by legislation. However, while they work on prevention, the courts and legislature have provided help in stopping the abuse and preventing it from happening again. This is where the Protection from Abuse Act No. 206 approved December 19, 1990, 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6101 et seq. comes into play. The Protection from Abuse Act, commonly known as the PFAA, makes many of these domestic violence behaviors illegal and punishable under the law. A victim, man or woman, who experiences these abuses, can apply to the court for an order of protection, barring the aggressor from contacting or harming the victim again, and the courts have broad leeway in issuing orders to protect victims of domestic violence. If a perpetrator violates these court orders, they can be arrested and criminal prosecuted under the law. The way PFA's are handled in Pennsylvania is that a victim appears at the courthouse and files a complaint against the abuser requesting a Protection from Abuse Order from the court. They will usually appear before a judge sometime that same day, and if the facts fall under the statute, the court will issue a Temporary Protective Order. The court will then schedule a hearing within 10 days for you to appear again and argue your case. The court will usually issue a summons for appearance under the PFA Act that the Sheriff will then go and serve on the Defendant at their home or workplace. Sometimes, they will request that a Defendant come to the office to be served directly. If the Defendant has been successfully served, the judge will then hear the case and see if the Defendant wants time to hire an attorney. If not, the case will go forward. If they do want time to hire their own attorney, the court will continue the hearing. It is very important that both parties consult with an attorney to understand their rights. These are serious charges that the court will not take lightly. Sometimes, the parties will qualify for free representation through organizations like MidPenn Legal Services or the Public Defender's Office. More often though, those offices will not be able to appear on short notice, and the case will be delayed at least a month, sometimes more. This can add frustration to a complicated process. However, private attorneys are often immediately available to help negotiate a settlement or to push your case forward. If you are facing a PFA, you should take it very seriously. If it is granted, it could affect your ability to work, travel, own firearms or hunt, shop, or even live near the victim. Since these requests themselves are often abused in a child custody context to gain an upper hand, it can also affect your ability to share child custody and visitation. You should never go to court unprepared or without representation. If you are a victim, it is equally important to have an attorney, so they can present the evidence in your case and make sure you get the protection you need to prevent further abuse of you or your children. Ultimately, PFA's are there to help prevent future abuse and to address incidents of violence in our community. Like any other legal tool, they can be helpful to address your situation, but they are no substitute for education and prevention. If you are located in or near Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I would be glad to meet with you for a free consultation (30 minutes) to discuss your legal options related to PFA's and other domestic violence issues. If you hire me, I can also represent you in your PFA hearings and probation followups. To schedule a consultation, please call at (717) 393-3464 or e-mail at [email protected] Good Luck! Attorney answers to questions are for general purposes only and do not establish an attorney-client relationship. This answer is meant for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice within the bounds of a professional relationship. It is always best to seek counsel with a competent attorney experienced in your area of issue and fully informed about the facts of your case.