Domestic violence is a controversial topic throughout the country, including in Pennsylvania. The offenses are taken seriously, and if a person is charged with the crime he or she could face severe consequences. In addition to criminal penalties, a person charged with domestic violence could face other restrictions.
In Pennsylvania, victims of domestic abuse can file for a Protection of Abuse Order against the alleged abuser. A Protection from Abuse Order is used as a method to stop abuse between a family or household member, a sexual or intimate partner or a person who shares a biological parenthood.
There are three different types of Protection from Abuse Orders in Pennsylvania. According to 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6108, if a victim is granted one of the orders, the consequences for the alleged offender could include:
• An order to not abuse, harass or stalk the plaintiff and his or her minor children
• Removal from a shared home, and the home being granted to the victim
• Requirement to provide the victim with suitable housing
• Loss of custody rights to children
• Financial support paid to victim
• Order to relinquish weapons and firearms and prohibition on acquiring new firearms
• Restitution to the plaintiff for losses relating to the abuse, such as medical bills
The shortest order is an Emergency Protection from Abuse Order, which is issued by an on-call magisterial district judge and lasts overnight. An emergency order would be granted if the judge believes the victim is in immediate and present danger of abuse.
A judge can grant the emergency order without hearing any evidence from the victim and or reading a statement from the alleged offender. The emergency order would require the alleged offender not have any contact with the victim until the order expires on the following business day. This means even if the people share a home, the alleged offender still would have to stay away from the victim.
After an emergency PFA has been granted, the court is open to hear a petition from the victim for an ex parte protection from abuse order, which is a more permanent restriction. A judge will decide whether to issue the order based on the victim’s evidence of abuse which must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence.
The victim must prove he or she or their children are in direct danger of abuse. Because the PFA is considered a civil order, this means there could be a lower burden of proof to issue the order. After a PFA is granted, the court will schedule another hearing for both parties to present their side of the case.
The most severe of the orders is a final PFA, which can last up to three years. A final PFA would be granted if the victim can prove the abuse by a preponderance of the evidence. During the hearing the alleged abuser may present evidence denying the domestic violence allegations.
If a PFA is issued on a person and he or she violates it, that person could face criminal contempt of court charges. In Pennsylvania, those charges could lead to up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.