In Pennsylvania, Protection From Abuse orders (PFAs) help victims of domestic violence seek legal protection from their alleged accusers. If granted, a PFA can provide immediate protection, offering the potential victim security and some peace of mind in the short term. Filing for a PFA and filing a police report for domestic violence aren't the same thing. They have different impacts on both victims and the accused. Each party should know what the differences are and how a domestic violence offense report or a PFA will be handled.
Is Filing a Domestic Violence Police Report the Same as Getting a PFA?
When you file a police report for a domestic violence incident, you do not automatically get a PFA. You will have to file for a PFA separately, although the police on the scene may recommend to the alleged victim to file for a PFA if one is not already in place. Filing a police report may not necessarily lead to an arrest or criminal charge, either.
If an alleged victim of domestic violence wants legal protection from their perpetrator immediately, the most effective measure is getting a PFA. Charging the supposed perpetrator with a crime takes much longer, as criminal cases like these can last months or years. A domestic abuse victim can also file for the initial PFA without the help of an attorney; it can usually be done by going to the county courthouse, with the assistance of the court clerks.
Types of PFAs
In Pennsylvania, there are three types of PFAs. Each applies to a different situation, so it's important to know how each one works whether you want to file a PFA against someone or you are on the receiving end of a PFA.
- Ex parte temporary PFA: The accuser can ask a judge for a temporary PFA without the other party being present. This type of PFA usually lasts for ten days until a final PFA hearing takes place.
- Emergency order PFA: This type of PFA is issued by a judge after hours in the case that the accuser needs immediate protection. The 911 dispatch center can contact an on-call judge to issue the order, and it's valid until the courthouse opens again on the next business day.
- Final PFA: The courts issue a final PFA after a hearing between the two parties in front of a judge. A final PFA can last up to three years. It's in both parties' best interest to consult with an attorney for the final PFA hearing.
The Scene of a Domestic Violence Incident
When a police officer is called to the scene of a potential domestic violence incident, they must investigate the scene and gather information before making an arrest. It's also not mandatory that an arrest takes place. Officers also have a responsibility to get medical assistance to injured persons as quickly as possible.
At the scene of a domestic violence incident, a law enforcement officer will collect evidence and interviews to create a domestic violence offense report.
The types of evidence the officer typically includes in the report are:
- The overall condition of the scene
- Signs of substance abuse by any of the parties
- Photos of property damage
- Firearms and weapons on the premises
- Photos of any injuries from both parties
The law enforcement officer must create a report that presents all the relevant information in an objective way. While at the scene of a domestic violence incident, an officer may also have to make an arrest.
Police officers must make an arrest if they have probable cause to believe someone committed an act of domestic violence in the last 72 hours or if there are signs of physical injury. In this case, the officer can make an arrest without a warrant and does not need to have witnessed the alleged domestic violence offense to make the arrest.
After the arrest, the state prosecutors decide whether to press charges against the alleged offender or not. It's important to note that in this situation, the alleged victim cannot decide to drop the charges; it's the prosecutor's call.
Does a PFA Stay on Your Record?
If you have a PFA against you, it will not show up on your criminal record. A PFA is a civil matter, and as long as you don't violate the PFA, it will remain a civil matter. Keep in mind that even if you don't violate your PFA, you may have been charged with a criminal domestic violence offense related to the incident which gave rise to the PFA order. That offense would go on your criminal record.
Although a PFA doesn't show up on a criminal record, it can still be found by a potential employer, school, licensing board, or creditor. PFAs show up in a statewide law enforcement database that the public cannot access, but they also appear in the issuing court's civil case files. If the court that issued the PFA has a searchable online database, someone could find the civil record of your PFA.
Domestic Violence Offense Reports and PFAs: How a Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney Can Help
Domestic violence issues are unfortunately common in Pennsylvania, but most people are unprepared for when it happens to them. The process for obtaining a PFA can be confusing for victims, and the accused may struggle to understand the restrictions of a PFA fully. Both can lead to harsh consequences. Victims of domestic violence may not know how best to protect themselves using Pennsylvania's legal mechanisms, and defendants can face criminal charges for an innocent or unintentional violation.
Both parties on a PFA issue can benefit from the expertise of a family law attorney. An experienced lawyer can help both plaintiffs and defendants overcome the legal hurdles they face before going to a final PFA hearing. They can also advise on what the best course of action is concerning a domestic violence offense report.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many clients with domestic violence and PFA issues throughout Pennsylvania. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to get the answers to your questions about domestic violence.