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 up to six months and/or pay a fine of anywhere between $300.00 and $1,000.00.
If you are a victim of domestic violence or abuse by a family member, current or former sexual partner, or current or former spouse; you may apply for PFA Order. Should you wish to initiate a Protection From Abuse action, you must report to the Snyder County Prothonotary's Office in the Snyder County Courthouse. Once there, ask to file 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 to its entirety. Many of the questions on that form 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 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 Snyder County Sheriff's Office. You may also obtain other help from Susquehanna Valley Transitions. You can contact them at 1-800-850-7948.
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 proctected 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 Snyder County Children & Youth Services at 570-374-4570.
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. 23 PaCS §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 or the Sheriff's Office of the County where the PFA was issued or the Sheriff's Office of the County 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 a Sheriff's Office, a municipal police department or the Pennsylvania State Police. If the defendant cannot relinquish his or her firearms immediately, he or she has 24 hours to do so. Once the firearms are surrendered, the law enforcement agency receiving them places the weapons in its secured evidence room. The firearms will remain there until otherwise ordered by the Judge.
Q: I surrendered my firearms or am supposed to surrender my firearms to the Sheriff's Office or other law enforcement agency pursuant to a PFA Order. I really don't want a law enforcement to have my firearms for such a long time. What are my options?
A: If you are the defendant and would like a third party to safeguard your firearms for you for the duration of the PFA Order, you and the third party would need to apply for a Safekeeping Permit with the Sheriff's Office of the county where the PFA Order was issued. However, the only approved third parties are either the defendant’s attorney or a licensed firearms dealer. These are the only two third parties permitted to obtain a Safekeeping Permit for a defendant’s firearms in a PFA action.
NOTE: If you already have surrendered your firearms to a law enforcement agency pursuant to a Temporary PFA Order, it is not possible to obtain a Safekeeping Permit until the issuance of a Final PFA Order. Upon issuance of a Final PFA Order, you must obtain a Safekeeping Permit within 24 hours of issuance. Otherwise, you cannot obtain a Safekeeping Permit.
Q: How do I get a Safekeeping Permit?
A: Safekeeping Permits may only be obtained within the first 24 hours after the defendant has been given actual notice of the PFA Order. The defendant and the third party that is to retain the firearms for the defendant must report to the Sheriff's Office in the county where the PFA Order was issued. They must each complete their portions of the Safekeeping Permit application and have their signatures notarized. The defendant must list all of the firearms, their descriptions and serial numbers on the application as well. The Sheriff's Office will then conduct a background check on the third party. If approved, the firearms must be transferred to the third party before the original 24-hour time period lapses. The third party is then required to complete an acknowledgement of receipt of the firearms. The defendant must return the signed receipt to the Sheriff's Office within 24 hours of the issuance of the Safekeeping Permit.
NOTE: The defendant and third party may not be members of the same household. If the defendant is arrested for a violation of the PFA Order, the Sheriff will revoke the Safekeeping Permit and take possession of the defendant's firearms from the third party.
(Ref. 23 PaCS §6108.3)
Q: I was the defendant in a PFA action and I surrendered my firearms to the Sheriff's Office or another law enforcement agency. The PFA expired, was vacated or was dismissed and now I want my firearms back. What do I have to do?
A: You must report to the Sheriff's Office or other law enforcement agency which is in possession of your firearms and have a background check conducted. Once the check determines you are legally permitted to possess firearms, your firearms will be returned to you.
Q: I was the defendant in a PFA action and I surrendered my firearms to a third party pursuant to a Safekeeping Permit. The PFA expired, was vacated or was dismissed and now I want my firearms back. What do I have to do?
A: You and the third party must report to the Sheriff's Office which issued the Safekeeping Permit and return the Safekeeping Permit. Before the firearms are to be returned to you, the Sheriff's Office will have a background check conducted. Once the check determines you are legally permitted to possess firearms, the third party may return your firearms to you.