When you are subject to a court-ordered restraining order, the stipulations are clear, and you are expected to comply with each of them completely. Even if you think the terms of the protective order are unfair or were made in error, it is still critical that you follow them to the letter. If you are charged with violating a protection order, you can be hit with additional penalties and sent to jail.
In Pennsylvania, a protective order called a protection from abuse order is usually ordered by the court for cases of domestic violence, harassment, or stalking. If the police question you for violating a PFA, you must immediately retain an experienced defense attorney.
What is a Protection from Abuse Order?
In Pennsylvania, victims of domestic violence can ask the courts for a protection from abuse order. A PFA will restrict you from contacting them and will order you to stay away from them, even specifying the specific minimum distance you must keep from them.
If you and the alleged victim live together, this means you will not be allowed to return home. The PFA can also give your spouse temporary custody of your children. This may severely limit your visitation rights, and you may be unable to see your children.
What Happens If You Violate a Protection Order?
Violating the terms of a PFA will hurt you in any other criminal or civil cases you may have pending. If you are facing stalking charges, for example, and your original PFA was ordered to keep you away from the alleged victim — but instead you showed up at her home — prosecutors can use your violation to show that you are still intent on harassing her.
If the violation was issued during a divorce or custody battle, it could work against you in the resolution of that civil case.
Penalties for Violating PFAs In Pennsylvania
If you are found guilty of criminal contempt for violating a PFA, your penalties are either:
- Up to six months in jail and a fine of $300 to $1,000, or
- Up to six months probation and a fine of $300 to $1,000
The conviction penalties depend on the circumstances of the violation. Upon conviction for indirect criminal contempt (violating a PFA) and at the victim’s request, the court can also extend the protection order.
You may be held in contempt of court for violating your PFA. Unlike other criminal charges, being held in contempt means you will not have the right to a jury trial. However, you will have the right to counsel.
The alleged victim can also file a petition for civil contempt, which alleges that you have violated a provision of the PFA or court-approved agreement. If you are found to be in civil contempt, you can be jailed for up to six months. As in criminal contempt, you will not have the right to a jury trial, although you can have a lawyer.
Collateral Consequences of Violating a PFA
In addition to the criminal penalties, there are many collateral consequences you may deal with as well. These consequences include:
- Child custody issues
- Citizenship and immigration troubles
- Damage to your personal and professional reputation
- License suspension
- Suspension or revocation of professional licenses
- Additional fines and fees
What To Do if You Are Charged With Violating a Protection Order
If you have been charged with violating a protection order, your first step should be to hire an attorney who can help minimize the negative impact of the violation. This holds especially true if you have pending criminal or civil charges that could be made worse by the violation of PFA.
Do not have any contact at all with the alleged victim.
When you meet with your lawyer, tell them everything that happened both before and during your arrest. If the alleged victim’s accusations are the only evidence against you, your position is stronger than it would be if there were additional evidence. Your attorney will analyze their claims for contradictions or apparent falsehoods.
How Can Violating a Protection Order Impact Your Pending Case?
Violating a protection from abuse order dramatically impacts pending criminal charges. Suppose you were released on bail with the stipulation that you not be re-arrested or commit another crime. In that case, you could expect to have your bail revoked and face additional criminal charges relating to your PFA violation.
Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse FAQ
We help answer common questions former clients have had regarding PFAs in Pittsburgh.
Contact our office if you need additional questions answered.
What is Considered a Violation of a PFA?
Protection from abuse orders involve no contact between you and the alleged victim. The terms of a PFA vary from case to case. Any attempts to communicate in any of the following ways could be considered a PFA violation:
- Direct messages on social media
Is a PFA Violation a Misdemeanor?
Yes. You could face first-degree misdemeanor charges for indirect criminal contempt of court for violating a protection from abuse order. A conviction results in:
- Up to six months in prison
- Fines as high as $1,000
- Community service
- Completion of anger management courses
What are the Different Types of Protection From Abuse Orders in Pennsylvania?
There are three primary types of PFAs in PA:
- Emergency Orders – These are temporary orders issued outside of regular business hours and only last until the close of business on the next day that the Court of Common Pleas is open.
- Ex Parte Temporary PFAs – These orders are issued during regular business hours and will go into effect until your court hearing.
- Final PFA – These can be issued after the judge has reviewed the evidence presented at your court hearing. Final PFAs can last up to three years and are eligible for extensions upon request.