Protection From Abuse (PFA)
A protection from abuse action is a civil proceeding which is meant to prohibit one party (the defendant) from having contact with, harassing, abusing, stalking or communicating with the other party (the plaintiff). A Protection From Abuse Order, otherwise known as a “PFA”, is similar to what other states have such as a restraining order. A PFA Order is an order issued and signed by a Court of Common Pleas Judge. Unlike what is seen in the movies, PFAs do not prohibit a person from coming within a certain distance of another person. Even though a PFA is a civil matter, if violated, the defendant could be charged with Indirect Criminal Contempt and be placed in prison for a period up to six months and/or pay a fine up to $1000.00.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or abused by a family member, current or former sexual partner or current or former spouse; you may apply for a PFA Order. Should you wish to initiate a Protection From Abuse action, you must report to the Centre County Court Administrator Office in the Center County Courthouse. Once there, ask for a Petition for Protection From Abuse. You must complete all appropriate forms as well as the Sheriff’s Information Sheet. When completing the Sheriff’s Information Sheet, please complete the form in its entirety. Many of the questions are very important for determining the defendant’s location and for the Deputies’ safety when serving the PFA Order. Note that you must know where the defendant is located. The Sheriff’s Office cannot serve a PFA Order on a defendant when they do not know where the defendant is located. Also, note that if the defendant is not given actual notice of the PFA Order, he or she is unable to violate that order because he or she is not legally aware of the order.
If you have any questions concerning a Protection From Abuse action, please contact the Centre County Sheriff’s Office at 814-355-6803.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Q: Who may file for a Protection From Abuse Order?
A: You may file for a PFA if you are a family or household member of the alleged abuser, sexual or intimate partner with the alleged abuser or a person who shares biological parenthood with the alleged abuser and the alleged abuser:
- Attempted to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly caused 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;
- Places you in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury;
- Inflicted of false imprisonment pursuant to 18 Pa. C.S. §2903 (relating to False Imprisonment);
- Physically or sexually abused minor children, including such terms as defined in Chapter 63 (relating to Child Protective Services)
- Knowingly engaged in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward you, including following you, without proper authority, under circumstances which placed you in reasonable fear of bodily injury.
Q: I am a parent or guardian of a child and I believe he or she has been a victim of abuse. What can I do?
A: You may file for a PFA Order on the child’s behalf. However, note that you are also protected under a PFA Order as well as the minor child. There are also other agencies that can assist you with situations such as this. If the abuse involves a minor child, Children & Youth Services should be contacted. You may contact the Centre County Children & Youth Services at 814-355-6755.
Q: I am going to file for a PFA Order for protection from another person and we have a child/children together. What is going to happen to them?
A: it depends what type of abuse is alleged. If the abuse is not severe and does not involve the children whatsoever, the Judge may order that both you and the other person continue to exchange custody of the children through a third party. This is at the discretion of the Judge.
Q: How long can a PFA Order last?
A: A PFA Order can last up to three years. The length of the PFA is determined by the Judge who presides over the Protection From Abuse action. If there has been a violation of the PFA Order by the defendant, the PFA Order can be extended for an additional three years.
Q: What is a Temporary PFA Order?
A: It is basically the same as a Final PFA Order, however, the Temporary PFA Order is what is issued by the Judge before a Hearing is held with the defendant being present. Typically, the Temporary PFA Order is valid until the date of the PFA hearing unless so ordered otherwise by the Judge. Upon completion of a hearing in front of a Judge, a Final PFA Order could be issued.
Q: I was told about a PFA Order against me over the phone by a law enforcement officer. I thought I had to be physically served with the PFA Order:
A: Often times, notice of the PFA Order will be given to a defendant via telephone due to the defendant being unavailable for personal/physical service of the Order. This is called “actual notice” (Ref. 263 Pa CS §6106(g)). Pursuant to Commonwealth v. Padilla (885 A.2d 994), a telephone conversation between a defendant and a law enforcement officer where the officer notifies him/her of the PFA Order, the conditions of the Order, and the consequences of violating the Order constitutes actual notice despite the fact that personal service is not affected.
Q: The person I filed a PFA Order against has violated the conditions of the order. What can I do?
A: You have a few options. If the violation is a matter of emergency, you may dial 911 and ask for police assistance. An emergency would be defined as an immediate threat to your safety or well-being. If the matter is not an emergency, you may visit the police department which has jurisdiction over the municipality where the alleged violation occurred. Most likely you will be asked to report to the law enforcement agency and complete a written statement as to the facts of the alleged violation. Depending on the violation, a warrant may be issued for the person who committed the alleged violation.
Q: I filed for a PFA Order on a person who has firearms. Will they be confiscated by the Sheriff’s Office?
A: It is possible. Depending on the severity of the alleged abuse, the Judge may order that the defendant relinquish his or her firearms and/or any other weapons to the Sheriff’s Office. If the defendant cannot relinquish his or her firearms immediately, he or she has 24 hours (or until the close of the next available business day if the 24-hour time period ends at a time when the Sheriff’s Office is closed) to do so. Once the firearms are surrendered, the Sheriff’s Office places them in its secured evidence room. The firearms will remain there until otherwise ordered by the Judge.
Q: I was the defendant in a PFA action and I surrendered my firearms to the Sheriff’s Office. The PFA expired, was vacated or was dismissed and now I want my firearms back. What do I have to do?
A: You must get a Court Order from the Judge that states the guns are to be returned and then report to the Sheriff’s Office which is in possession of your firearms and have a background check conducted. You should allow a 48 hour wait period after the Judge grants the order before reporting to the Sheriff’s Office. This is so the State has sufficient time to receive the order from the Judge. Otherwise, when the Sheriff’s Office submits the background check to the state it is likely to come back denied. Once the check determines you are legally permitted to possess firearms, your firearms will be returned to you.