Domestic violence is a widespread problem in Pennsylvania and across the nation. Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse Act (PFA) law was passed in 1976 to address this serious issue. Unfortunately, being falsely accused of domestic violence through the PFA law can have devastating consequences for your life and your future. Therefore, it is essential to have a strong PA Protection from Abuse defense lawyer on your side if someone files a Protection from Abuse Petition against you.
Pennsylvania PFA Defense
The PFA Act has proven to be a practical resource in protecting Pennsylvania domestic abuse victims and domestic violence victims. A PFA Order is also referred to as a Pennsylvania Restraining Order. Regrettably, a spouse or domestic partner can use false accusations of domestic abuse to manipulate the legal system to gain an advantage in Pennsylvania child custody hearings, divorce proceedings or to gain exclusive possession of a home.
In some cases, a PFA Plaintiff will commit perjury during their PFA testimony to support a false claim of abuse. As a result, it is important to have an experienced Pennsylvania PFA attorney to defend you against fraudulent PFA charges.
What are the Consequences of a False PFA Allegation?
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 children.
Your personal and professional future depends on your ability to successfully defend yourself against false accusations of abuse. Therefore, it is crucial to have a skilled Protection from Abuse defense attorney on your side if a PFA Order has been entered against you.
Can a PFA Affect my Child Custody Rights?
Yes. Unlike the factors considered during a typical Pennsylvania child custody hearing, a PFA Judge is not required to conduct a 16-factor best interests of the child analysis under the Pennsylvania Child Custody Act.
A PFA judge may award temporary legal and physical custody of a child to the Plaintiff if the judge concludes that the Defendant poses an immediate and present threat to the child or children identified as protected persons in the PFA Petition.
Also, the temporary custody order in a PFA Petition will supersede any existing child custody order issued through child custody court. In addition, a finding of abuse by a PFA judge can be used against the Defendant in any subsequent child custody proceedings. Present or past abuse against a child is one of the 16 factors a child custody judge considers in determining the parental custody of a child.
Bucks County PFA Defense Lawyer
I have over a decade of experience as a PFA defense lawyer providing skilled and aggressive legal representation to individuals who are subject to a PFA Order in Bucks County, Montgomery County or the surrounding Pennsylvania counties. Contact me at (215) 752-5282 for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response. Appointments are available after business hours and on weekends.
Who can be Covered under a PFA Petition in PA?
- You must be an adult household member or:
- Any other adult or guardian on behalf of a minor child and be one of the following:
- Current or former spouse
- Current or former sexual or intimate partner
- Others related by blood or marriage
- Same-sex couple
Where can a Pennsylvania PFA be Filed?
A Plaintiff may file a Protection from Abuse Action in Bucks County, Montgomery County, or any other Pennsylvania County if that county is:
- Where the Plaintiff lives
- Where the Plaintiff is employed
- Where the Defendant may be served with the PFA Petition
- Where the alleged abuse occurred
- Where the Plaintiff lives if the Plaintiff requests exclusive possession of the residence
The PFA Law Explained
Abuse is defined under the PA Protection from Abuse Act 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. Abuse under the Pennsylvania PFA Law is defined as:
- 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)
Do You Need a Lawyer for a PFA Hearing?
Yes. Defending yourself at a PFA hearing can have disastrous consequences. Most non-lawyers will not understand the PFA court hearing procedures and the rules of evidence applied during the hearing. A lack of understanding of basic court rules can make it difficult to effectively argue your case before the judge.
What are the Consequences of a Finding of Abuse?
The PFA Judge has broad discretion under the law in imposing conditions upon a person who the judge has found to have committed abuse. These conditions can include:
- Evicting you from your joint home or excluding you from your residence
- Awarding temporary child custody to the Plaintiff
- Granting temporary child support and spousal support to the Plaintiff
- Prohibiting you from possessing firearms for the duration of the PFA Order
- Requiring you to turn over all firearms to the sheriff or police
- Prohibiting you from having any contact with your children
Placement of the Protection Order in the PA State Police Registry
Once the Final PFA Order is issued, law enforcement officials will place the protective order in the Pennsylvania State Police Registry. It is enforceable anywhere in Pennsylvania, tribal lands, United States territories, and the 49 states outside of Pennsylvania.
All current and potential employers and others conducting background checks will have access to the database listing the Pennsylvania Protective Order.
PFA Mandatory Firearms Relinquishment
A judge may order the Defendant to turn over firearms, ammunition and weapons within 24 hours as a condition of a temporary PFA Order if the plaintiff establishes abuse involving a firearm or an immediate and present danger of abuse. Also, the judge must order the Defendant to turn over all firearms, other weapons, and ammunition within 24 hours if the court enters a final PFA Order against the defendant after an adjudicated hearing.
Additionally, the Defendant is no longer permitted to turn over firearms, other weapons, or ammunition to family members or friends.
Where Can Firearms be Relinquished under the PFA Law?
- The county Sheriff’s Department
- The local police department
- A licensed firearms dealer
- A commercial armory
- An attorney with whom the Defendant shares an attorney-client relationship
However, a Final Protection from Abuse Order entered by agreement between the Plaintiff and the Defendant does not trigger an automatic weapons relinquishment under Pennsylvania law.
Nonetheless, the PFA Judge can order a mandatory firearm, other weapons, and ammunition relinquishment in cases involving a PFA resolved through agreement between the Plaintiff and the Defendant. You need an experienced Protection from Abuse lawyer to preserve your lawful gun rights for these reasons.
Can a Victim Violate a PFA?
No. The conditions and requirements of the Emergency, Temporary, or Final Pennsylvania PFA Order apply only to the Defendant (also referred to as the Respondent). However, a PFA Defendant has a right to request that the police file criminal charges against a PFA Plaintiff if the Plaintiff commits a criminal act against the Defendant.
In addition, a PFA Defendant can request that a family court judge issue an emergency or temporary protection order against a PFA Plaintiff who engages in acts of abuse against the Defendant or acts of abuse against the Defendant’s children.
What Happens if You Violate a PFA in PA?
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 (ICC) of the Final PFA Order. An innocent phone call, text message, or social media post will often result in PFA violation charges.
In other instances, the police will make an arrest based on the accuser’s allegation alone, even if it is not truthful. I have extensive experience in PFA contempt hearings. Most importantly, I will fight to keep you out of jail if you are accused of violating a Final PFA Order.
What is the Burden of Proof in a PFA Violation Hearing?
A charge for violating a Final PFA Order is considered a criminal matter, carrying severe penalties, including a potential jail sentence of up to 6 months. At the Protection from Abuse Contempt Hearing, a prosecutor must present evidence before a judge to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the Defendant violated the Final PFA Order.
However, the Defendant will often present testimony and other evidence to establish that the existing PFA Order was not violated. I will prepare the most effective defense strategy to win a dismissal of the PFA Violation Petition.
What are the 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.
How to Win a PFA Hearing
I will thoroughly investigate the facts and circumstances of your case to develop the strongest possible defense against the allegations in the PFA Petition. A comprehensive investigation will often require the use of a private investigator.
How to Prepare for a PFA Hearing
My professional network includes many highly skilled independent defense investigators. The defense investigator will interview and subpoena necessary witnesses for the Final PFA hearing.
In addition, the defense investigator can also acquire phone records, geolocation data, geopositioning records, geotracking files, medical records, video surveillance, and social media records (social media scrape) that contradict the PFA accuser’s version of events.
I will meet with you to go over the evidence in the case and discuss our defense strategies. Also, I will spend a significant amount of time preparing you to testify in court. Pre-trial preparation is critical in mounting a successful defense against a false PFA petition.
I have substantial experience defending individuals facing a Protection from Abuse Final Hearing or accused of violating an existing PFA Order. Through my expansive 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.
Can I Appeal a PFA Order in PA?
Yes. In some cases, it is essential to appeal the final ruling of the family court PFA judge to protect your rights and to correct factual or legal mistakes made by the court. Generally, you have 10 days to file a Motion for Reconsideration of the final PFA ruling. In addition, you must file a Notice of Appeal of the PFA decision to the Pennsylvania Superior Court within 30 days of the date of the ruling on the PFA Final Order.
The appeal of the Final PFA Ruling to the Pennsylvania Superior Court should be filed within the 30-day deadline, even when you choose to petition the PFA trial court for a reconsideration of the judge’s PFA decision.
If the PFA appeal is successful, the state appellate court may dismiss the PFA Petition, order a new PFA hearing, or grant other forms of relief. I can analyze the records of your PFA hearing to determine if you have grounds for a successful PFA appeal.
Is a PFA a Public Record?
Yes. Although a civil PFA record will not appear on a criminal background check, it will remain accessible in the civil court records of the case. Even unsubstantiated or false PFA filings may be attainable through the civil court record system for an employment or other professional background check. However, a conviction for violating a PFA Order, referred to as indirect criminal contempt, will appear on a criminal background check.
Does a PFA Go on Your Record?
Yes. The issuance of an Emergency PFA Order or Temporary PFA Order can result in significant long-term damage to a person’s personal and professional reputation. Employers, landlords, and government agency officials can discover PFA records in publicly accessible civil court dockets and other databases. Unfortunately, employers and others who find the PFA court records will decline employment, professional licensing or professional certification.
Therefore, it is important to petition the court to expunge your PFA records if you are eligible under Pennsylvania law. I can explain the
Pennsylvania PFA record expungement process to you and determine if your PFA case records qualify to be expunged.
How to Expunge a PFA in PA
Experienced Representation for the PFA Expungement Process
Under Pennsylvania law, the right to expunge a PFA record is not automatic. In deciding whether to grant a Protection from Abuse Expungement, the court will consider the following factors:
- The age of the Petitioner
- The circumstances of the case
- The hardship caused to the Petitioner by the existence of the PFA Record
- The prosecutor’s reasons for preserving the PFA Records
I have considerable experience successfully assisting individuals in the PFA expungement process. I can determine whether you are eligible to have your Protection from Abuse records expunged.
How to Get a PFA Dropped
A Final PFA Order can last as long as 3 years. However, there are often circumstances under which the Plaintiff and the Defendant might want a Permanent Pennsylvania Restraining Order withdrawn. In many cases, the parties to the PFA Petition have decided to reconcile after the court entered the original PFA Order.
Each Pennsylvania County has policies and procedures for filing a Petition to Vacate a Final PFA Order. In Bucks County, Montgomery County, Chester County, Chester County, and Delaware County, PA, a Temporary Protection from Abuse Order can be withdrawn on the record in PFA Court by the Plaintiff without filing a Motion to Vacate PFA.
However, most counties require that the Plaintiff file a Motion to Withdraw a Final PFA Order. After the Plaintiff files the PFA Withdrawal Motion, the PFA judge will conduct a hearing to determine if there are appropriate reasons for canceling the Permanent Protective Order.
What is the Legal Standard for Vacating a Final PFA Order?
The Plaintiff must convince the PFA judge that the PFA Protection Order should be removed because the Defendant no longer poses a threat of abuse. Secondly, the Plaintiff must demonstrate that the PFA withdrawal request is not the result of pressure, threats, or coercion by the Defendant or others.
The PFA judge will deny the Petition if the Petitioner does not satisfy both conditions. As a result, the existing Final PFA Order will remain in place. I can assist you with the court process and procedure to have a Final PFA Order withdrawn by the court.
Montgomery County PFA Defense Lawyer
Have you been falsely accused of domestic violence or other abuse and facing a Final PFA Hearing in Bucks County, Montgomery County, or the surrounding Pennsylvania Counties? In that case, it is critical to act quickly to protect your rights and build the strongest possible defense against untruthful and dishonest PFA claims. Phone lines are open 24 hours a day at (215) 752-5282. Contact me for a free initial consultation or fill out the confidential contact form for an immediate response.