PFAs, Violations, and Victim Rights

Even a purely civil or domestic matter can wind up in a criminal context, particularly when one person requests a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order against another person.

The Pennsylvania Protection From Abuse (PFA) Act was enacted in 1976 as a response to the inadequacy of the criminal justice system and traditional remedies to cope with the problems of domestic violence. he purpose of the Act is to provide temporary relief in emergency situations.

Only certain individuals can seek protection under the PFA Act, including:

  • spouse or former spouse of a Defendant
  • the parent of a child with a Defendant
  • a current or former sexual or intimate partner with Defendant
  • a child of Plaintiff
  • a child of Defendant
  • a family member related by blood (consanguinity) to Defendant
  • a family member related by marriage or affinity to Defendant
  • a sibling (person who shares parenthood) of Defendant

An experienced Criminal Law Attorney can help you complete the paperwork for filing for protection under the PFA. Attorney Justin P. Miller can guide you through the process, assisting you in filing the paperwork and speaking on your behalf before the court.

PFA Violation / Contempt Hearings

If an ex-partner or family member files for protection under the PFA Act, and a judge enters an order against you, you have some special responsibilities. Just picking up the telephone or sending a text message — even posting a greeting on Facebook — have all been found to be violations of PFAs. As a Defendant, you are facing up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for even the most harmless acts.

If you find yourself under arrest for a PFA violation, Sheriff’s deputies will take you to jail and you’ll find yourself before a judge within hours. That judge may rule on your contempt or violation right away or, more likely, will set bail in your case and send you off to jail for as long as a week or more until a judge decides to hear your case! Don’t get caught in that situation. If you have a PFA order against you, you can speak with an experienced Criminal Defense Attorney now so you know what to do and what not to do if you are ever accused of violating a PFA order.

If you do find yourself under arrest, the vast majority of people accused of violating a PFA are represented by attorneys who work in the Public Defender Office. They are excellent attorneys, but you may find yourself represented by someone who only have three or four minutes to talk to you before the judge comes in and the hearing gets underway. This isn’t the Public Defender’s fault, it is just a symptom of the pressure on the Public Defender Office. As a former Assistant Public Defender, Attorney Miller understands the intricate ways the PFA Act can harm a client. Put his experience to work for you.

Domestic Violence Victim Representation

As odd as it may seem, the victim in a domestic violence case is not represented by the District Attorney or by the District Attorney’s Victim Advocate. If a victim of domestic violence does not wish for prosecution to proceed, the prosecutor does not have to listen. If a victim of domestic violence wants to have contact with the defendant, the prosecutor does not have to follow the victim’s wishes. The victim’s advocate may not advocate for a victim’s desires in all circumstances.

In nearly all criminal cases, the District Attorney represents that Commonwealth. In Pennsylvania, although we refer to victims of crime as “victims,” the only legal victim is society – the Commonwealth. In many instances, the prosecutor will have concerns or interests that a victim may not have regarding victim safety or offender accountability. This does not mean that the prosecutor will not listen to a victim. However, a victim may feel that to be truly heard or to have his/her wishes acted upon may take the assistance of someone who works within the domestic violence system and talks to domestic violence prosecutors every day.

In some circumstances the prosecutor and victim advocate may proceed exactly how a victim would like for them to proceed, but the victim does not feel adequately protected by the steps taken by the prosecutor. For example, there may be time limits to the length of the no contact order sought by the prosecutor. In these circumstances, the victim may wish to seek a civil domestic violence protection order and seek a longer term of protection. In those proceedings, the defendant may appear and contest the issuance of the order and a victim may wish to have counsel speaking and advocating for his or her interests.

Sometimes a victim simply wants their own independent advisor regarding the legal proceedings surrounding him or her. Again, the prosecutor and victim’s advocate serve a role that is not the same as having an advisor and advocate that has 100% loyalty to the victim and only to the victim and his or her wishes and needs.