For individuals living in fear of a predator or abusive partner, a legal protection order can literally be a lifesaver. For those accused, life can be turned upside down.
Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act (PFA) empowers the state's civil courts to issue restraining orders to protect against continual sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking behaviors. Importantly, the Act's power to be enforced is only among “family or household members, sexual or intimate partners, or persons who share biological parenthood.”
How a Protected Order Affects the Accused
For individuals facing a PFA, the effects go far beyond simply being restrained from contact with certain individuals (although the inability to see one's children is no simple thing) and impact almost every aspect of daily life.
The accused will be denied access to their home—a safe place to eat, sleep and relax. Because the alleged abuser may be obligated to continue to pay for the home, it may be impossible to afford or even secure a new place to live.
There will also be a loss to access to personal effects, including clothing, tools and possessions needed for work, and family heirlooms.
What a Move Means
But what if the protected person lives in a state other than Pennsylvania makes a visit or moves there from out of state?
Requirements for Enforcement of a PFA in Pennsylvania
An out-of-state protection order can be enforced in Pennsylvania under certain conditions:
- It was granted by the court to prevent harassment, threats of violence or sexual violence, or to prevent physical or digital contact by an alleged abuser with the victim(s).
- The court that granted it had jurisdiction over the case and the individuals involved.
- The alleged abuser received notice of the protection order had the chance to go to court and argue their perspective—regardless of whether or not they went—on the situation and their role in it.
In the event of an emergency order, a judge may grant one that will hold until a hearing can take place within a “reasonable time.”
If you are accused of domestic violence, and an emergency order is imposed upon you, it's critical you attend the hearing, or it will eliminate your chances of having the order dismissed before it becomes a long-term imposition.
Having an experienced attorney on your side can be a major advantage when your life is upended by a protective order.
Being able to successfully argue your side of the story is not easy to do on your own. Joseph D. Lento understands how the courts work and the ways in which orders are mistaken or manipulated, and the potential ways to get these cases thrown out.
How Are Protection Orders Recorded?
Law enforcement most often consults the National Crime Information Center Protective Order File (NCIC-POF), which is a US-wide digital database containing information about orders of protection.
The POF holds information on court orders issued by civil and criminal state courts with the intention of preventing acts of domestic violence and/or prevent stalking, intimidation, or other forms of harassment. The content of these orders varies from state to state.
Only certain government agencies can access the NCIC-POF, so there is no way for a member of the public to confirm a protection order is in the registry or add an order to it without assistance from a relevant agency—typically the state police or criminal justice agency in a given state. (In some instances, the courts have taken over the role and subsequently manage the protection order process.)
To verify and enforce an out-of-state protection order, law enforcement must be able to find a record of it in NCIC-POF. Because some states only enter protection orders into their own respective state databases rather than the national registry, it's possible your order won't be accessible.
That means to get an order enforced immediately, a victim may need to present a law enforcement officer with a hard copy of the order.
That said, Pennsylvania law does not require the complainant to register a PFA in order for it to be enforced. Pennsylvania law enforcement is supposed to assume an out-of-state order is valid unless otherwise indicated by a court.
Registering a PFA in Pennsylvania
Like the NCIC-POF, the Pennsylvania State Police registry of protection orders cannot be accessed by the public but only by law enforcement officers and courts. A statewide database that includes every temporary and final protection order issued in Pennsylvania as well as any out-of-state orders filed in the state.
To register an out-of-state protection order, the complainant must get a certified copy of the protection order from the court that issued it and then file it with the prothonotary in the county where they are living or staying.
Fighting a PFA
A PFA is a serious matter indeed—anyone facing a PFA should avail themselves of every legal option possible. Because Pennsylvania will enforce an out-of-state order, one from anywhere else in the country must be taken seriously. It can still put the accused at risk of unintentionally violating the order, with prosecution and conviction resulting in potential fines and jail time. This can mean losing a job, home, career, professional license, and reputation.
Because of the nationwide database, PFA filings result in something akin to a criminal-type record following the accused across state lines, including in Pennsylvania. These charges can have a ripple effect, affecting divorce and custody hearings.
Because of these high stakes and the trial-like procedures around PFAs, demand the strongest representation you can get. When you hire criminal-defense attorney Joseph D. Lento, you will have a fighter on your side. If you or someone you care about faces a Pennsylvania PFA proceeding, call the Lento Law Firm now at 888-535-3686 or contact us online for help.