As ABC News reports, Republican law makers have proposed a bill (SB 500) that would require law enforcement to offer protection in the form of a personal escort home after filing PFA petition during the sensitive time period between the date that a PFA petition is filed and served on the Defendant. This is when tensions are often highest between domestic partners. Specifically, here is what ABC News reported about the changes:
“One proposal, Senate Bill 501, would ban defendants in final protection from abuse cases from transferring guns to family, friends and neighbors. Firearms would have to be surrendered to a county sheriff or other law enforcement agency or to a federal firearms licensed dealer.
Senate Bill 500 would direct police officers, deputy sheriffs or someone approved by the court to accompany those seeking protection to their home before or when the order is served, if the plaintiff believes their safety is in danger.
Senate Bill 502 allows courts to extend terms of an existing order or issue a new order in certain circumstances.
Senate Bill 449 clarifies that magisterial district judges may, in domestic violence cases, use a risk assessment tool to determine whether someone poses a danger when setting bail.”
As the law stands currently, when a person files a PFA, the Sheriff serves said Petition on the Defendant-“alleged abuser,” and that’s the end of the involvement of law enforcement until there is an actual violation of the temporary order. Senate Bill 500 would add a duty (and cost) on local law enforcement to offer affirmative protection to a petitioner absent any violation of the PFA by a Defendant. This is a good idea, generally, but it will have a cost. Local law enforcement might see this as yet another “unfunded mandate” from the PA legislature, requiring cops and the sheriff to do more work, for no additional pay, unless the bill also addresses funding so it will be interesting to see how all this plays out.
No matter what happens with these bills, any proposed change to the PFA law of PA is worth serious discussion, given the extent of domestic abuse in PA. As the Mercury New reported:
Ellen Kramer of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence said the legislation was needed.
“There is so much more that must be done to stem the tide of domestic violence in our communities,” she said. “For many domestic violence victims, a PFA offers vital protection that allows them to escape their abusive relationships and live in safer and more independent environments.”
She said Pennsylvania courts receive 40,000 requests annually for protection from abuse orders.
“While the majority of victims do go on to live safely and without violence in their lives, sadly that is not always the case,” Kramer said.
She added that there have been 1,600 domestic violence-related homicides in Pennsylvania over the last decade and 102 in 2016 last year. Two were the death of law enforcement officers.
Click here for more information about possible changes to PFA law in PA.
Domestic violence is a serious problem. This is why judges often grant questionable PFA requests, because of the possible harm in failing to offer such protection. The court has to balance the “what if”s: what if the petitioner is telling the truth? If the petitioner is in danger, the cost of denying the PFA could be life or death. On the other hand, for the defendant, defending a PFA, what if the court orders a PFA against him improperly? An injustice would definitely occur, as this would damage the Defendant’s reputation and and create the false impression on the public docket that he is an “abuser.” It could also interfere with his ability to get job or public housing, as a PFA on the public docket is relevant to review someone’s character.
A PFA petition puts a judge in a tough position. She has to balance the risk of physical injury or death to a PFA petitioner (from a denial of the PFA request) against the risk of damage to the Defendant’s reputation from an improper PFA entered against him as permanent, forever on the public docket. In close cases, this really isn’t fair to anyone, including the judge, but the public policy of PA is to do what is needed to protect those from being abused. The systems works, to a degree, and it prevents harm to those in danger, but unfortunately many innocent guys (and even women falsely accused of things) get tangled unfairly in the PFA process.
Our Pittsburgh PFA lawyers are available to provide a free consultation about your rights regarding protection from abuse act claims and defenses in PA.