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Protection from Abuse Defense

Domestic violence is a widespread problem in Pennsylvania and across the nation. According to the United States Department of Justice, domestic abuse can include physical, sexual, emotional, economic or psychological actions or threats of actions used by one person in a relationship to control the other.

Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse Law

Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse Act (PFA), originally signed into law in 1976, has proven to be an invaluable resource in providing protection to victims of domestic violence. Unfortunately, accusations of domestic abuse can often be used by 1 spouse or domestic partner to manipulate the legal system to gain an advantage in child custody and divorce proceedings or to gain exclusive possession of a residence.

Adverse Consequences of a Protection from Abuse Order

Being accused of abuse can often cause significant lifelong damage to your personal and professional reputation. Individuals subject to an active PFA Order in Pennsylvania face severe consequences that can significantly impact their ability to work, obtain housing and even see their own children. Your personal and professional future depends largely on your ability to successfully defend yourself against accusations of abuse. It is important to have a knowledgeable PFA defense attorney on your side if a PFA Order has been entered against you.

PFA Defense Attorney

I have 34 years of experience providing skilled and aggressive representation to individuals who are subject to a PFA Order.

Who can be Covered under a PFA Order in Pennsylvania

  • You must be an adult household member, or;
  • An adult or guardian on behalf of a minor child and be one of the following:
    • Current or former spouse
    • Parent
    • Child
    • Current or former sexual or intimate partner
    • Others related by blood or marriage

The Definition of Abuse under the Protection from Abuse Act

Abuse is defined under the Protection from Abuse Act (23 Pa.C.S.A § 6102) as the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood:

  • Causing or attempting to cause bodily injury or serious bodily injury
  • Physical or sexual abuse of minor children
  • Rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault and incest
  • Placing someone in reasonable fear of immediate and serious physical harm
  • Following someone (stalking) or repeatedly committing other acts that cause the person to have reasonable fear of bodily injury
  • Interfering with a person’s freedom of movement (e.g., false imprisonment)

Types of Pennsylvania PFA Orders

Emergency PFA Order

This type of protective order is issued if the magisterial district judge believes the alleged victim is in immediate and present danger. Evidence is presented from the plaintiff’s side only and the order of protection usually expires within 24 hours or at 5 p.m. on the next day the Court of Common Pleas is in session again.

Temporary PFA Order

This type of protective order lasts up to 10 business days, within which time the court schedules a date for a final hearing on the PFA petition. Before making a decision to issue a temporary PFA, the judge will hear evidence from the plaintiff’s (also referred to as the Petitioner) side only. If granted, a temporary PFA Order will remain in effect until the final hearing is held. The final hearing is usually scheduled within 10 days but the Temporary PFA Order can be extended beyond 10 days if the hearing is continued for an appropriate legal reason. The judge may order a defendant to turn over all firearms as part of a temporary order if the petitioner alleges abuse involving a firearm or an immediate and present danger of abuse.

Final PFA Order

A final PFA order may be entered against the defendant after a hearing is conducted before a judge in the court of common pleas. In a contested PFA hearing, evidence is presented from both the plaintiff and the defendant. The judge will decide whether the plaintiff has established by a preponderance of evidence (more likely than not) that the defendant abused the plaintiff. The judge will dismiss the petition if the plaintiff fails to meet this burden. The judge may enter a final PFA Order lasting for up to 3 years if the plaintiff establishes that abuse has occurred. I will aggressively defend your rights at the final PFA hearing if you have been falsely accused of committing abuse.

Consequences of a Finding of Abuse

The PFA judge has wide discretion under the law in imposing conditions upon an individual who has been found to have committed abuse after a final PFA hearing. These conditions can include:

  • Evicting you from your joint home or excluding you from your residence
  • Awarding temporary custody of your children to the plaintiff
  • Granting temporary child support and spousal support to the plaintiff
  • Prohibiting the defendant from possessing firearms for the duration of the PFA Order
  • Requiring the defendant to turn over all firearms to the sheriff or police
  • Prohibiting the defendant from having any contact with his or her children

Once the Final PFA Order is issued, it is automatically placed in the Pennsylvania State Police Registry and is enforceable anywhere in the state and in the states outside of Pennsylvania. All current and potential employers and others conducting background checks will have access to the database listing the PFA Order.

Mandatory Firearms Relinquishment

The judge must order the defendant to turn over all firearms, other weapons and ammunition within 24 hours if a final PFA order is entered against the defendant after an adjudicated hearing. Additionally, a defendant is no longer permitted to turn over firearms, other weapons or ammunition to family members or friends. A final Protection from Abuse Order entered by agreement or consent of the plaintiff and the defendant does not trigger an automatic weapons relinquishment under Pennsylvania law. However, the judge has the discretion to order a mandatory firearms, other weapons and ammunition relinquishment in cases involving PFA resolved through agreement or consent of the parties in the case.

Consequences of Violating the Final PFA Order

Individuals accused of violating a Final PFA Order will be arrested and face a hearing before a judge to determine whether they are in indirect criminal contempt of the Final PFA Order. An innocent phone call, text message or social media post will often result in charges. In other instances, the police make an arrest based on the accuser’s statement alone, even if it is not truthful. I can defend your rights if you are accused of violating a Final PFA Order.

Burden of Proof in a PFA Violation Hearing

A charge for violating a Final PFA Order is considered a criminal matter carrying more severe penalties, including a potential jail sentence. At the contempt hearing, a prosecutor will present evidence before a judge to attempt to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant violated the Final PFA Order. The defendant will often present testimony and other evidence to establish that the existing PFA Order was not violated. I have extensive experience defending individuals who have been accused of violating a Final PFA Order.

Penalties for Violating a Final PFA Order

  • Fine of at least $300 and up to $1,000
  • Up to 6 months in jail
  • Extension of the PFA Order for up to 3 years

Outside of these penalties, violating a Final PFA Order can significantly affect the status of any criminal case that may be pending against you. Individuals charged with violating a PFA Order will often find themselves facing separate charges in criminal court related to the same incident. I have extensive experience successfully defending individuals who are simultaneously facing criminal charges and charges for violation of a Final PFA Order involving the same incident.

Protection from Abuse Defense

I will thoroughly investigate the facts and circumstances of your case to develop the strongest possible defense against the allegations in the PFA petition.

Trusted and Experienced PFA Defense

I have substantial experience defending individuals abuse or accused of violating an existing protection from abuse order. Through my criminal defense experience, I have developed the ability to discredit the testimony of the opposing party’s witnesses through intensive and uncompromising cross-examination. I am also skilled at exploiting the other weaknesses in the opposing party’s case. My primary goals are to protect your rights, your reputation and your freedom.

Expungement of PFA Records

The issuance of an emergency or temporary PFA Order can result in significant long-term damage to a person’s personal and professional reputation. Records of the PFA Order can often be found in publically accessible civil court dockets and other databases. Employers and others conducting background checks will often discover the PFA court records and decline employment, licensing or certification as a result. Therefore, it is important to petition the court for expungement of your PFA records if you are eligible under Pennsylvania law. I can explain the Pennsylvania expungement process to you and determine if your case qualifies for expungement.

Eligibility for PFA Expungement

The Pennsylvania appellate courts have recognized a limited right to the expungement of a PFA Order under certain circumstances. An individual may be eligible for expungement if the PFA Order is dismissed after a final hearing, when neither party appears for the final hearing, or when the PFA Order never advances past the temporary order stage.

Experienced Representation for the PFA Expungement Process

The right to expungement of the PFA record is not automatic. The court will consider the age, background and hardship of the petitioner as well as the circumstances of the case and the government’s reasons for preserving the records. I have considerable experience successfully assisting individuals in the PFA expungement process. I can determine whether you are eligible to have your PFA records expunged.

Withdrawing a Final PFA Order

A Final PFA Order can last as long as 3 years but there are often circumstances under which the plaintiff might want a Final PFA Order vacated or withdrawn. Each county has its own policies and procedures to vacate an existing Final PFA Order.

Standard for Withdrawing a Final PFA Order

To grant the petition, the PFA judge will need to be convinced that the plaintiff is requesting that the order be vacated because the threat of abuse no longer exists and not because of pressure, threats or coercion by the defendant or others. Otherwise, the petition will be denied and the existing final PFA Order will stay in effect. I can assist you with the court process and procedure to have a Final PFA Order withdrawn by the court.

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Louis Emmi

Louis Emmi