PFA · Protection From Abuse · Uncategorized

Why Do Judges Grant Questionable PFAs?

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magisterial 2If a temporary PFA becomes “permanent,” it can have a significant impact on the Defendant’s life:  it creates a public record that he (or she) is an “abuser” or “stalker,” which can jeopardize (1) job opportunities (if the PFA comes up in a background check), (2) custody rights; and even (3) one’s ability to qualify for public housing.*

So then, why do Judges seem to err on the side of granting a PFA in close cases?  The answer is:  the Judge has a moral and legal duty to help prevent future abuse, yet a Judge does not have a “crystal ball” and will rarely know for sure who is telling the truth in court.

Until the PFA is violated, it is just a piece of paper that may have little consequence or effect in the real world. It will, however, cause a defendant to be on “best behavior” to avoid criminal penalties for violating the PFA.  A PFA order is also something that judge’s like to grant, in close cases, because it serves as proof that the Court at least tried to separate the parties prior to something more serious happening.

There are at least two reasons why Judge’s err on granting a PFA:

(1) Limited Discovery.  Often, a PFA hearing is only a half-day long, there is little if any discovery done in advance of the hearing, meaning, it is rare for a deposition or formal exchange of written records to take place prior to a hearing on Protection From Abuse Act Petition claim.  The Judge has to decide the matter, often, based on how the witnesses come across in court that day.

(2) Consequences for Denying the PFA.  There can be fatal consequences if a victim is not separated from abuser.  Imagine this scenario:  a Judge denies a PFA, but then the Defendant later goes on to kill the Petitioner-victim. There are no shortage of examples in the media where a man or woman exhibiting a pattern of abuse (allegedly) goes on to further harass or kill the victim (allegedly):

Ex-Delco cop, accused killer, admits stalking Montco woman

Family of woman found shot in car think police could have done more to prevent it

A PFA is essentially a piece of paper and it cannot not necessarily prevent a homicide, but if a Judge denies a PFA request —  in situation where the Defendant later goes on to publicly stalk or, worse, kill the victim-PFA Petitioner — it will appear to the world that the judge had been “soft” in a way that had serious consequences.  Judges, for the most part, try to do the right thing and are not consumed with thinking about how his or her decision will “look,” but Judge’s are human, as well, and none of them want to be profiled on the O’Reilly Factor.  Given this fact, coupled with the fact that a Judge can rarely “know” the truth in any case, gives Judges an incentive to grant PFAs in questionable cases.

Does This Mean That All PFA Requests be Granted?  No.  It is definitely not the case that every request for a “permanent” (3 year) PFA in Pennsylvania will be granted. Quite the contrary.  In some cases, it is impossible for any abuse to have occurred if, for example, the Defendant was out of the country when the supposed physical abuse occurred in PA.  Additionally, at times, a PFA claim will questionable on its face where, for example, the PFA “victim” has filed numerous PFAs in the past that were withdrawn and/or ruled frivolous in the past.  Plus there are are other scenarios where the allegations in a PFA are so outlandish that it makes sense for the Defendant to fight the PFA.

Any person served with a PFA Petition should immediately contact an experienced attorney to evaluate defenses and possible settlement options short of the PFA becoming “permanent,” i.e., a three year PFA. Our Pittsburgh attorneys evaluate PFA defenses on a regular basis and appear in court in Allegheny County, Beaver County, Butler County, Washington County, and Westemoreland County, defending PFAs.

Call or email our Pittsburgh lawyers any time for a free consultation.


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* While a victim of abuse has certain rights to housing, the same does not apply for the PFA Defendant, who, if adjudicated an “abuser,” may be disqualified from public housing.

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