Understanding Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse (PFA) Law

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Understanding Pennsylvania’s Protection from Abuse (PFA) Law

Understanding_PFA

Many individuals relate Protection from Abuse Orders to Restraining Orders. In fact, those terms are often used synonymously. The Protection from Abuse (“PFA”) process is not a criminal action. While criminal charges can certainly be brought as a result of actions leading to a PFA, the PFA process itself is civil in nature. The PFA process is intended to give relief for a victim from his or her abuser.

There is the misconception that any individual can obtain a PFA against another individual who harasses them, hurts them, etc… In reality, PFA’s are governed by two Pennsylvania statutory sections, which determine a PFA’s reach and limitations. The first section is in the “Domestic Relations” area of the law. The second section is found in the “Judicial Procedure” area of the law.

In the Domestic Relations area of law, specifically 23 Pa.C.S. § 6102, the statutory language defines “Abuse.” In doing so, the language dictates who can bring a PFA and under what circumstances a PFA can be brought. Section 6102 indicates that only acts between: 1 family or household members, 2. sexual or intimate partners, or 3. persons who share biological parenthood can result in a PFA. Thus, the Domestic Relations section does not allow a PFA to be brought against a stranger, co-worker, etc… Section 6102 also dictates under what circumstances a PFA can be brought. That section allows a PFA to be brought when the perpetrator does one of the following:

(1)  Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or incest with or without a deadly weapon.

(2)  Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.

(3)  The infliction of false imprisonment pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 2903 (relating to false imprisonment).

(4)  Physically or sexually abusing minor children, including such terms as defined in Chapter 63 (relating to child protective services).

(5)  Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, without proper authority, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury. The definition of this paragraph applies only to proceedings commenced under this title and is inapplicable to any criminal prosecutions commenced under Title 18 (relating to crimes and offenses).

Meanwhile, the Judicial Procedure area of law relating to PFA’s has only been in effect since July 15, 2015. The PFA section under the Judicial Procedure area of law is found at 42 Pa.C.S. §62A01 and broadens the scope as to who a PFA can be brought against. That section protects victims of “sexual violence” or “intimidation.”

“Sexual violence” is defined as “conduct constituting a crime under any of the following provisions between persons who are not family or household members.” The term provisions referenced in the aforementioned definition relate to various sexual crimes and covers sexual crimes that occur outside of family or household members, which the Domestic Relations Section does not address.

Meanwhile, “intimidation” is defined as conduct constituting a crime under either of the following provisions between persons who are not family or household members:

18 Pa.C.S. § 2709(a)(4), (5), (6) or (7) (relating to harassment) where the conduct is committed
by a person 18 years of age or older against a person under 18 years of age.

18 Pa.C.S. § 2709.1 (relating to stalking) where the conduct is committed by a
person 18 years of age or older against a person under 18 years of age.

In short, unlike the Domestic Relations area of law, the Judicial Procedure area of law protects non-family or household members.

With the foregoing law in mind, the process for obtaining a PFA is fairly quick. Nevertheless, each county follows a different process to obtain a PFA order. Using Lebanon County as an example, in a non-emergency situation, a victim will go to the PFA office at the courthouse and request a Protection from Abuse Order. A determination will be made whether to grant or deny a temporary protection from abuse order. Whether denied or granted, a victim and/or alleged perpetrator has a right to a hearing for a final determination to be made. Assuming a temporary order is issued, that Order will last up to 10 days, within which time a Judge schedules a final hearing. It is possible that the final hearing could be continued (due to a party’s request to be represented by an attorney or due a party being unavailable on the scheduled hearing date). If the final hearing is continued, the temporary order will remain until the final hearing can be held.

When a final hearing is held, both sides will present their testimony and evidence. The judge will make a determination whether to grant the PFA and make the temporary order final or deny the PFA. If the judge grants the PFA, he can set the terms of the PFA and the length of the PFA, up to a maximum of 3 years.

It is important to note that the parties, typically through their attorneys, can avoid a PFA hearing and agree to the terms and length of the PFA, the maximum still being three years. The benefits of reaching an agreement outside of a hearing can benefit both the victim and the perpetrator. The victim does not risk the Judge dismissing the PFA and obtains a court order making the PFA final for his or her protection. The alleged perpetrator does not admit to any of the underlying PFA facts and is simply agreeing to have a PFA placed against him or her.

Overall, PFA’s can have far reaching affects on both the victim and the alleged perpetrator’s life. Contact Buzgon Davis Law Offices as we are experienced with representing both sides in PFA matters.

 

This article was written by Joseph A. Crowe, Associate Attorney of Buzgon Davis Law Offices.

 

**The information is this blog is for informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship.

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