Domestic violence, or the threat of domestic violence, must always be taken seriously. To protect victims from bodily harm, individuals may be arrested on domestic violence charges – or served with Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders – based on very little evidence. Unsurprisingly, this can be a confusing and traumatic time for everyone involved – whether you need to file a PFA or you've been accused of domestic violence, here's what you should know about the process.
What Is Domestic Violence in PA?
In PA, domestic violence is something of a “catch-all” term for when one household member acts violently, aggressively, or abusively towards another. Acts of domestic violence include:
- Bodily harm
- Direct threats
- Sexual assault
Domestic violence can be a misdemeanor or felony. Given how serious these charges can be, you should hire an attorney immediately if you're facing domestic violence allegations.
Who Can Be Arrested for Domestic Violence?
You can only be arrested for domestic violence if you're in a qualifying domestic relationship with the accuser. Qualifying relationships include parents, spouses, intimate partners, and people who have a child together, so neighbors, colleagues, and friends are generally excluded unless there's also an intimate relationship.
- The police do not need a warrant to arrest someone for domestic violence. All they need is probable cause to believe the alleged incident took place.
- There's no guarantee the accused will be awarded bail after a domestic violence arrest. It depends on various factors, including whether the judge believes they present a danger to the victim.
What Is a PFA?
A PFA is a civil court order designed to protect domestic abuse victims from further harm. In other words, it's a type of restraining order aimed at those in domestic relationships.
There are three major types of PFAs:
If someone believes they're in immediate danger outside normal court hours, they can call 911 and speak with the on-call judge, who may award an emergency order. The order lasts until the next business day.
Temporary orders are filed with the court during regular business hours. They last until the final PFA hearing, which is typically in 10 days.
At the final hearing, the judge may extend the temporary order, dismiss the PFA entirely, or turn it into a permanent order.
If the police arrest someone for domestic violence, they may serve an emergency or temporary PFA at the same time.
PFAs set out various things the accused cannot do, such as:
- Contact the victim
- Possess firearms
- See their children
- Stay in the shared home
If you're arrested for domestic violence and served with a PFA simultaneously, the PFA is effective immediately. So, for example, if you're released on bail, but the order says you can't return home, you must follow these rules or else risk further charges.
Can Someone Be Arrested for Domestic Violence Without a PFA?
Yes. Remember, domestic violence typically involves injuring someone or making them feel they're at risk of serious bodily harm. To protect the victim, the police can arrest a person for alleged domestic violence even if there's no PFA in place.
If the victim does not go on to file a PFA against the defendant, they could still face criminal charges if the prosecutor believes there's enough evidence that an act of domestic violence took place.
Does a PFA Mean Criminal Charges?
No. Filing for a PFA does not mean criminal charges will be brought against the accused since it's a civil rather than criminal order.
- A PFA won't show up on criminal background checks
- PFAs are civil court records, so they can be accessed by the public in certain (limited) circumstances
PFAs can significantly affect a person's future even if they're not arrested for domestic violence. An experienced attorney will do everything possible to mitigate the long-term impact of any PFA, depending on the case facts.
What Happens if Someone Violates a PFA?
Although PFAs are civil orders, a PFA violation can lead to criminal contempt charges.
- Criminal contempt convictions can mean fines of up to $1,000 and up to 6 months in jail. Penalties may be higher for repeat offenders.
- A criminal contempt conviction will show up in background checks, which could make it harder for someone to find a job or go to college.
- The courts may be more likely to extend a PFA if there's a criminal contempt conviction since the accuser could still be in danger.
If there's a PFA filed against you, check with an attorney to ensure you understand exactly what behavior is prohibited – otherwise, you could mistakenly violate the order.
How Can a Domestic Violence Attorney Help?
Whether you're concerned for your safety or you have been arrested for domestic violence, an experienced attorney can help you through this traumatic time.
- Filing a PFA can be complex. An attorney will ensure you complete the paperwork correctly and represent your best interests at the final hearing.
- If you're facing a PFA or domestic violence allegations, an attorney will defend your rights, walk you through the legal process, and put forward the strongest possible case in your defense.
Contact Joseph Lento for assistance with any family law matter, whether you're the victim or the accused.
Have the Lento Law Firm on Your Side
When you're dealing with a domestic violence issue, you deserve compassionate representation from an attorney who understands how the criminal and family court systems work. As an experienced domestic violence attorney in PA, Joseph Lento has guided numerous individuals through the PFA process, and he gives every client the personalized advice and support they deserve.
If there's a PFA filed against you, or you're concerned for your or your family's safety, Joseph Lento wants to help. Contact the Lento Law Firm now at 888.535.3686 or leave him a message online to discuss your case.