When relationships with family members or intimate partners turn sour, the resulting pain and anger may cause people to behave badly. You'll sometimes hear, “She's not herself today,” when a friend or relative behaves in a way that seems out of character–perhaps becoming verbally or physically abusive. Many popular movies and television programs concern situations where domestic quarrels have escalated into verbal or physical violence.
While people may enjoy watching dramas about this sort of behavior, in real life, it's extremely stressful and upsetting to find yourself a part of it. If carried out by a family member, housemate, sexual partner, or co-parent in Pennsylvania, it's called domestic abuse. Under Pennsylvania Statute § 6102, domestic abuse refers to abuse between family members, housemates, sexual partners, or co-parents when one of them:
- Intentionally or recklessly hurts the other one or places them in reasonable fear of immediate, serious harm
- Seeks to terrorize a person by repeatedly committing acts that place them in fear of bodily injury
- Stalks the other person
- Sexually assaults them
- Interferes with their freedom of movement, such as preventing them from leaving the premises
- Abuses minor children in the household
The Lento Law Firm–Experienced with Family Law Representation
The Lento Law Firm has years of experience assisting individuals caught up in such crises with family law matters. Pennsylvania courts allow people whose significant others, family, or household members have carried out any of these acts (or made threats to) to ask their local Court of Common Pleas Family Division to issue a stay-away order, known as a Protection From Abuse order or a “PFA.” The PFA orders the abuser to stay away from the victim and from the victim's home, school, or workplace.
The Pennsylvania legal system takes the matter very seriously when someone violates a PFA, labeling it a crime called indirect criminal contempt. The violator is also likely to be charged with additional crimes such as stalking, harassment by communication, and criminal mischief.
PFAs and Criminal Trespass
When a person subject to a PFA enters the home, school, or work site of a person protected by a PFA, they're committing a crime known as criminal trespass.. According to Pennsylvania Statute § 3503, criminal trespass consists of a person entering a building they have been told to stay out of or remaining there after they have been told to leave. Thus, if a PFA directs a person to move out of the place they have been staying, and they ignore the order, they can be charged with criminal trespass.
Examples of Criminal Trespass
A PFA order also applies to any other structure where the protected person regularly spends time. If the person subject to the PFA deliberately follows the protected person into a place not listed in the order, such as the neighborhood grocery store, they may be charged with criminal trespass. Pennsylvania judges treat such offenses as felonies–the most serious category of crime–issuing the harshest penalties, including fines, imprisonment, and a lengthy parole period after release from prison.
In the context of criminal trespass, “entering” can mean anything from breaking into a locked house to crawling through a window or even just coming in through an unlocked door if the trespasser has been ordered to stay away. Criminal trespass includes persuading someone to let the trespasser enter by means of subterfuge, such as asking a receptionist stationed at an office front desk to direct you to your significant other when the staffer does not know the person has obtained a PFA.
A person subject to a PFA may face a criminal trespass charge even if the protected person is not on the premises when the visitor shows up. For example, suppose an office receptionist tells a visitor that the person they want to see is not there, and the visitor then leaves. Once the protected person learns of the attempted visit, they can report the violation to the police. The same would be true if the protected person learned from a neighbor that the person subject to the PFA had come onto their home property while they were not there.
If the PFA includes a minor child who is in school, trespass would consist of entering the school premises, including outdoor spaces such as the playground.
Pennsylvania Domestic Violence and Criminal Trespass Law
The Pennsylvania legislature has deliberately defined domestic violence and criminal trespass broadly to protect people in a wide variety of circumstances. Occasionally that broadness enables individuals to try and use the law to get a PFA against someone who has neither harmed them nor threatened them with harm. The Lento Law Firm advises people seeking PFAs and also those who have had PFA requests filed against them.
Each of Pennsylvania's 67 counties has its own procedures for issuing PFAs, and its own webpage explaining the process–for example, Chester County, Lancaster County, Philadelphia County, Bucks County, Allegheny County, and Centre County. Filling out the complaint and response forms, filing them in the proper division, making sure the other person is properly served, and appearing before the judge can be an intimidating experience. Joseph D. Lento is familiar with the different county systems, has extensive knowledge of family law, and serves as a vigorous advocate on behalf of his clients.
If you need advice about obtaining or contesting a Pennsylvania PFA related to a family law matter, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or contact us here.