What is a PFA? Protection From Abuse
Domestic violence charges can often lead to serious consequences in both criminal and civil court. Acts and threats of physical and sexual violence and abuse are serious crimes, and the State of Pennsylvania prosecutes them in criminal court. Pennsylvania also has a law called the Protection from Abuse Act, which allows the civil courts to issue protective orders defendants and to provide protection plaintiffs.
What is a PFA?
These protection from abuse orders, or PFAs, are court orders that set rules for the parties involved in a domestic violence incident. In legal terms, those who file PFAs are plaintiffs and those who have PFAs filed against them are defendants. Plaintiffs may file several different types of PFAs, depending on the circumstances.
- Emergency PFA – Typically filed under emergency circumstances with the approval of an on-call judge, emergency PFAs may have harsher terms due to their emergent nature. An emergency PFA is temporary in nature, lasting up to ten days.
- Ex parte PFA – The plaintiff must go before a judge to file an ex parte PFA, without the presence or input of the defendant. It is temporary in nature an emergency PFA, lasting until a judge issues a final PFA in a hearing with both parties.
- Final PFA – A final PFA typically lasts for a number of years, with terms set by a judge after listening to arguments from both sides in a hearing. The terms can be mild or severe, depending on the circumstances.
Plaintiffs file petitions for PFAs with the Delaware County Office of Judicial Support, which then gives it to the Delaware County Court Administration for assignment for the next scheduled PFA hearing date. An emergency petition goes to the Family Law Division Motions Judge for immediate action.
In the cases of both emergency and ex parte PFAs, the defendant is not present when a judge issues the order. As a result, the court will have the police, another officer of the court or a process server serve notice of the temporary PFA and the date, time and location of the hearing to decide on the final PFA to the defendant. The server will deliver an affidavit of service to the plaintiff as proof the defendant knows of the temporary order and the hearing on the petition.
Defense Against a Pending PFA Order
If you face a PFA order, you must attend a court hearing where a judge will decide whether, and under what terms, to finalize the PFA. As the defendant, you will have the opportunity to show evidence against finalizing the PFA and any terms under consideration if the judge’s ultimate decision is to finalize it. The judge will consider all the input from the defendant, no matter the final outcome. It is important to make the strongest case possible, if not to prevent the PFAs finalization, then to mitigate the severity of the terms.
What Are Criminal Charges Associated With PFA Orders?
Again, acts and threats of physical and sexual violence and abuse are serious crimes Delaware County and the State of Pennsylvania prosecute in criminal court. Also, if a defendant violates the terms of either a temporary or final PFA he or she can be subject to criminal prosecution.
If the plaintiff feels the defendant is in violation, he or she can file a complaint – called an Indirect Criminal Contempt Complaint – with the court. The court may then issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest and schedule a contempt hearing before a judge. Criminal contempt is a serious offense. If the judge decides the defendant indeed violated the order, the defendant can face up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
What to Do When Facing a PFA
If you or a loved one is facing a PFA order or domestic violence charges it is critical to consult a skilled attorney with the knowledge and experience necessary to navigate the complex and often confusing process. Many people in this situation discover find their lives totally disrupted, with the terms imposed by the PFA many aspects of their daily lives.
Ciccarelli Law Offices’ attorneys can help you defend yourself against a PFA and charges of domestic violence. Contact our Delaware County Criminal Defense attorneys today to find out what we can do to help.