I’m Accused of Violating a Pennsylvania Protection From Abuse Order- What Now?
By: Dave Mueller, Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are subject to an active Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) in Pennsylvania, and find yourself either under arrest or in receipt of a summons alleging that you violated the order, you may find yourself facing serious criminal consequences for the first time in your life. The consequences are real, and you could be facing fines or even jail time. No matter what you are accused of, now is the time to speak to a criminal attorney about your case.
If you were involved in the PFA issuance process, you are probably already aware that the PFA, its underlying petition, and its issuance were a civil matter. If you are accused of violating a PFA, it is critical to know that the alleged violation is now a criminal matter. Potential penalties include 6 months in jail and a $1000 fine, and you will now be facing a criminal hearing where a judge will decide whether you should be held in contempt for violation of a court order. If so, that judge will decide what penalties you face, up to and including 6 months in jail. Even if you represented yourself at all prior proceedings, the stakes have now been raised. It is critical to consult with an experienced criminal attorney as soon as possible.
What Happens Next?
If you have been arrested or served with a summons for a PFA violation, a hearing will be scheduled. This hearing, referred to as an Indirect Criminal Contempt hearing (“ICC”) proceeds just like any non-jury trial in a criminal matter. A prosecuting attorney will appear for the Commonwealth, and the state bears the burden of proving that you violated the court’s order beyond a reasonable doubt. They will call witnesses to prove their case, and you have a right to do the same. When the proceeding is over, the judge alone will decide whether the state has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you violated the court order. The issues at stake here can be somewhat complex, and your attorney will advise you on how the allegations at this proceeding are very different from the allegations that gave rise to the PFA in the first place. The Commonwealth can meet its burden by proving even violations or contact that are otherwise “innocent,” and this could subject you to jail time. Only an attorney skilled in criminal defense will understand how the law and the courtroom rules apply to your case, and only an attorney can assist you in a hearing where your whole life may be on the line.
If you are accused of violating a protection from abuse order, contact us and schedule an appointment with an attorney immediately.
At this point, the Commonwealth will have an experienced prosecutor working against you. The only approach you should consider is to have an experienced, professional criminal attorney on your side, who can help you throughout the process.