In Pennsylvania, protective orders from the court can be available for family members or intimate partners of someone who allegedly abused them. These protective orders are known as protection from abuse (PFA) orders. These orders are available because of the Protection from Abuse Act, first passed in 1990.
If a PFA order is granted by a court, then the alleged abuser can be prohibited from several activities, including contact with the alleged victim. If you are the named defendant in a PFA order and you would like it dismissed, then make sure you understand the legal process necessary. If you have legal questions, then it is vital that you speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.
Protection from Abuse Orders Explained
PFA orders are a type of restraining order that can be granted to protect one individual from another. If someone alleged that he or she is a victim of physical or sexual abuse and that the abuser is in a close domestic relationship, then a PFA order can be granted. If a PFA order is in place, then any violations can result in arrest and criminal prosecution. PFA orders are enforceable across the country as long as they have not expired or been canceled.
Who Can Petition for a Protection from Abuse Order?
PFA orders are protective orders that are designed to ensure the safety of abuse victims when their abuser is close to them. The person seeking protection from the court is called the petitioner, while the person being accused of abuse is called the defendant. To be eligible for a PFA order, the petitioner has to be in a qualifying domestic relationship with the defendant.
A qualifying domestic relationship is defined as one that is either a family relationship or a romantic relationship of some kind. Examples include spouses, dating partners, and relatives that live together. The relationship does not have to be current to be considered a qualifying domestic relationship.
Petitioners for PFAs must be 18 years of age or older. If someone under 18 years of age wants to petition for a PFA, then an adult must petition on their behalf. If a claimant does not qualify for a PFA, then he or she might qualify for a different protective order under state law.
What Happens When a Final PFA is Granted?
If a court approves a final PFA order, then its provisions are enforceable for up to three years. Final PFA provisions can include prohibitions on contact, limitations on where the defendant can live and go. The court can also make temporary custody determinations and order the defendant to turn over any weapons. If the defendant incurred costs on the petitioner for physical or mental health services, then the judge can order the defendant to pay restitution. PFA orders are enforceable by the police and the court. If a defendant violates a PFA order, then he or she can face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
How Long are PFA Orders Valid in Pennsylvania?
PFA orders are not permanent in Pennsylvania and can be valid anywhere from one month to three years. If a petitioner wants to extend a PFA order, then he or she can ask the court to renew the PFA for another period. If the PFA order was granted for six months, then the petitioner can ask for the PFA to renew for another six months. Judges are the only people who can change or cancel a PFA order. The parties involved in a PFA do not have the authority to cancel or change its orders.
How Often Can a Final PFA Order Be Extended?
Final PFA orders are enforceable for as long as three years. Even though they are limited to three years, these orders can be renewed by the court a limitless number of times. As long as the court continues to believe that protection is necessary for the petitioner, then the provisions of a PFA order can continue. With the ability to renew, the end date of a final PFA order can also be the start date for a new one.
Petition To Modify a Protection From Abuse Explained
Any desired changes to a final PFA order must be made in writing with a petition to modify. The petition to modify must include an explanation of the desired changes and reasons for the changes. The judge will review the petition as well as any testimony given regarding the petition to modify and will determine whether the changes should be made. The judge will focus on what is in the best interests of the parties while ensuring the petitioner is safe. The judge will not make any changes if he or she feels that the changes would put the petitioner in danger.
The judge will examine whether the petitioner is freely and willingly requesting the changes or if he or she is being forced to request them. PFA orders are enforceable until they are modified or canceled by the court. It is important for the defendant to continue to abide by the orders of a final PFA even if a petition or modify has been filed. Having contact before the PFA orders are lifted is grounds for a violation.
Can a Petitioner Cancel a Final PFA in Pennsylvania?
Only the court can cancel a final PFA in Pennsylvania, but a petitioner can be a major help. The petitioner is the only person who can request the court to cancel a PFA. If the petitioner requests the court to cancel a final PFA, then the judge will have a hearing to determine whether cancelation is appropriate. The judge will focus on the safety of the petitioner and will ask if he or she is being threatened to seek a cancelation. If the judge is convinced that the petitioner will remain safe without court protection and that the cancelation request is being made freely, then a final PFA can be canceled.
When Can a PFA Order Be Dismissed?
If a requested PFA does not meet the legal requirements or the burden of proof, then the petition can be dismissed. A petitioner must demonstrate that a qualifying domestic relationship exists and that abuse occurred at the hands of the defendant. If the petitioner is unable to demonstrate the required relationship or abuse as defined by state law, then a PFA can be dismissed. A PFA can be dismissed at one of three stages:
- After the temporary PFA hearing
- After the final PFA hearing
- At a later date, as approved by the court
If a PFA order is dismissed, then its protections are no longer enforceable, and the petitioner will no longer be protected by the court.
What Happens If a PFA Order is Dismissed?
If a PFA order is dismissed, then so are all of the orders associated with it. The PFA order is removed from all police databases once it is dismissed and will not show up on any criminal record as long as there were no violations. All orders regarding custody, contact, or living arrangements end when a PFA order is dismissed. If the defendant had to turn over any guns to the court because of the PFA order, then the defendant is able to get them back after the dismissal.
Can You Request Another PFA Order If One is Dismissed?
Yes, a petitioner can request another PFA order if one is dismissed by the court. However, it is unlikely that the court will entertain a request unless it is made with new allegations of abuse. Once a previous PFA order is dismissed, then the facts and circumstances surrounding that case cannot be the only basis for a new PFA order. To get another PFA order, the petitioner must again show that abuse occurred and that protection from the court is necessary. Any previously granted PFA orders will surely be considered by the court and will be part of the determination of whether a new PFA order is necessary.
Appeal Options for a Final Protection from Abuse Order Decision
If the judge rules against you in a PFA case, then you have two different appellate options: a motion for reconsideration or an appeal to the Superior Court. You will be successful in your appeal if you are able to convince the judge that reconsideration is necessary or that a mistake was made in the decision granting a PFA order. These options are explained as follows:
- Motions for Reconsideration of a Final PFA Order
If a petitioner or defendant is given a ruling in a PFA case that they don't agree with, then a motion for reconsideration can be filed. A motion for reconsideration asks the judge to reconsider his or her decision due to some important reason or mistake. Examples of when a motion for reconsideration can be successful is when:
- The judge applied the law incorrectly
- There was a change in the law that makes a material difference
- A manifest injustice will occur if the court rules against the person seeking reconsideration
Motions for reconsideration are not successful unless they point out strong issues such as legal mistakes or miscarriages of justice. They are not a place to simply reargue your case and hope for a different result.
- Final PFA Appeals to Superior Court
If a motion for reconsideration is not successful or doesn't seem to be a successful approach, then your other option is to file a formal appeal to the Superior Court. You have 30 days to file an appeal from when the judge signed the final PFA making it effective. Final PFA appeals to Superior Court require a few necessary steps, they are:
- Filing a Notice of Appeal with the court
- Requesting and obtaining a copy of all transcripts of the final PFA hearing
- Requesting and obtaining a copy of all transcripts for any motions for reconsideration
- Researching and writing a legal brief that outlines how the law was misapplied and why the court should reverse the decision of the presiding judge
- Being available and ready for any oral arguments conducted by the court
Appeals are narrow reviews of any legal issues in the case that were reviewed and decided by the judge. In filing an appeal, you are asking the appellate court to determine whether the judge made legal mistakes in the case so great that the outcome of the case would be different. You must point out where and how the judge made mistakes and back it up with law and legal precedent to be successful in your appeal.
Both a petitioner and a defendant can appeal the decision of a judge in a PFA case. An appeal can result in the appellate court affirming the judge's decision, reversing the judge's decision, or remanding the case back to the original court for further legal proceedings.
How An Attorney Can Help
PFA orders are serious matters that can have serious consequences. If you are involved in a PFA case, then it is critical to understand how the provisions of a PFA order can affect your daily life as well as your relationship with your family. A PFA order can restrain someone from seeing or speaking to a family member or intimate partner. If you want to cancel a PFA order, then make sure you have experienced legal help so you can avoid making mistakes that can end up in arrest and criminal prosecution. Call us so we can help!
Contact the Lento Law Firm Today
If you have questions about how to get a protection from abuse order canceled, then it is important that you speak to an experienced attorney. To learn why attorney Joseph D .Lento and the Lento Law Firm are the right choice, call 888-535-3686 or contact us online.