Protection from abuse orders (PFAs) may be sought by victims of domestic violence to prevent their abuser from committing threatening acts against them and their minor children. This protection is an important step against domestic violence, and those party to a PFA need to know what to expect. While certain behaviors that may trigger the need for, or an extension of, a PFA are obvious, others are less so.
If you need a PFA, or find yourself in the position of having a PFA ordered against you, you should contact an experienced PA family law attorney right away. Cases involving PFAs move quickly and have serious impacts on everyone involved, the sooner you seek legal representation, the better.
How Protection from Abuse Orders Work in Pennsylvania
Protection from Abuse Orders are designed to protect victims of domestic violence in Pennsylvania. PFAs operate like restraining orders in other states and can be granted on a long-term or a temporary basis. For example, an emergency order may be issued by a judge if domestic violence happens outside of court hours, like on weekends or during the night. Emergencies orders will remain in place until the court opens and the victim has a chance to apply for an ex parte temporary PFA.
Ex Parte Temporary PFA orders in Pennsylvania are issued without the requirement that the defendant is notified. These orders remain in place until a final hearing can be heard by the court, generally within ten business days.
During the final hearing for a Final Protection from Abuse Order, the defendant will have a chance to explain their side of the story through evidence and testimony. If the judge decides a Final PFA should be issued, the defendant will be barred from:
- Threatening, stalking, abusing, or attempting to commit these acts, against the victim
- Possessing firearms
- Possessing any weapons or ammunition used to threaten the victim
When a Final PFA is ordered against an abuser, the term of the order can last up to three years. It can also be extended if the judge finds the abuser committed acts of abuse during the initial term of the PFA; however, it's important to note that the victim must file for an extension, or else the PFA will automatically expire.
Criminal Mischief in Pennsylvania
The Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes sets forth the law dictating criminal mischief under Title 18, § 3304. The statute provides that a person can be found guilty of criminal mischief if he or she:
- “damages tangible property of another intentionally, recklessly, or by negligence in the employment of fire, explosives, or other dangerous means…”
- “intentionally or recklessly tampers with tangible property of another so as to endanger person or property;”
- “intentionally or recklessly causes another to suffer pecuniary loss by deception or threat;”
- “intentionally defaces or otherwise damages tangible public property or tangible property of another with graffiti by use of any aerosol spray-paint can, broad-tipped indelible marker or similar marking device;”
- “intentionally damages real or personal property of another;”
- “intentionally defaces personal, private or public property by discharging a paintball gun or paintball marker at that property.”
Criminal mischief isn't considered a violent crime, and generally, the criminal act will be treated as a minor offense. Sometimes though, criminal mischief can be charged as a third-degree felony, the least severe of PA felony classifications, if the offender intended significant loss or damage to the victim.
How Criminal Mischief impacts PA Protection from Abuse Orders
Those accused of criminal mischief in PA may have more to worry about than the criminal case. Even though criminal mischief isn't really a violent offense, it can constitute harassment.
A PFA can only be sought when a domestic relationship exists between the victim and the abuser. Accordingly, a PFA can be ordered when the parties:
- Are married, or were previously married
- Share children
- Live together or used to live together
- Are dating, or were dating
In addition to physical or sexual violence or threats of violence against an accuser, harassment may also be considered grounds for a PFA. Under Pennsylvania Law, harassment is a crime, and can occur when the accused repeatedly engages in conduct that “serves no legitimate purpose.” For example, a person may be found guilty of harassment for:
- Communicating “lewd, lascivious, threatening or obscene words, language, drawings or caricatures” or communicating “repeatedly in an anonymous manner.”
Such conduct can amount to criminal mischief in scenarios where this communication is made through acts of vandalism.
What to do When a PFA Has Been Ordered
If you're party to a PFA you must abide by rules outlined in the order. This may mean the parties are not allowed to communicate in any manner or be in proximity to one another. Even when both the accuser and accused feel they can facilitate their own communication, doing so may be barred under the order. If you're the one accused of domestic violence, you could be convicted of a crime for violating the order.
Those who've been accused often feel wrongly judged or that the inciting incident was misunderstood. This can lead to feelings of resentment and anger that may cause the accused to act out through criminal mischief. While the frustration can be understandable, you should never violate the terms of the PFA order against you.
If you feel a PFA has been unjustly ordered against you, you should seek to appeal the PFA Order in court with the help of an experienced Protection from Abuse Lawyer.
Speak to a Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Attorney
Pennsylvania family law attorney Joseph D. Lento knows how stressful it can be when those in a domestic relationship need to navigate PFA issues. To learn how the dedicated team at the Lento Law Firm can help you, call 888.535.3686 or contact us online today.