Pennsylvania's Protection From Abuse Act (PFA). That Act was adopted because our criminal law is inadequate for dealing with the violence that sometimes arises in a domestic environment. Police are reluctant to get involved, especially when battered wives drop charges only days after they are filed. So this domestic, non-criminal law was adopted. It includes a temporary protection order, which can be issued based on the testimony of just one person, to provide some basic protection from violence, as well as a cooling off period.
Based on some disinformation being spouted on the AM airwaves by Jim Gregory, Brian Bind and Tricia Mezzacappa, I decided to do some research into the law as it applies in Northampton County. They claim that the PFA process is used as a tool of revenge. Here are the facts.
1) PFAs have declined. - In 2000, there were 1,238 PFA actions. In 2012, the number was 1,038. Given the change in population, there has been a decrease in people seeking PFAs. In 2000, one out of every 216 people was forced to seek a PFA. But last year, it was only 1 in 288.
2) Over half of the PFAs filed are withdrawn or dismissed. - A study of 200 PFAs filed this year reveals that over half of them (117) are withdrawn, dismissed or just expire. 67 were simply withdrawn, in some cases, even after a final PFA Order has been entered. 43 were outright dismissed for insufficient evidence after hearing. 7 cases, emergency orders from a Magistrate's office, simply expired with no further action.
In many of the withdrawn cases, the files contain photographic evidence, showing that violence did occur.
Some judges are reluctant to allow a battered spouse to withdraw a PFA. Judge Paula Roscioli, for example, has denied motions to withdraw PFAs. Recently, Senior Judge Lawrence Brenner has also started to deny motions to withdraw PFAs.
3) PFAs are often very limited in scope and duration, with the focus on minimizing family violence. - Although a PFA can last as long as three years, judges are reticent to make them last that long, especially when children are involved. They usually impose a shorter duration and often allow limited contact between mothers and fathers for visitation purposes with children.They appear to be particularly concerned about children. In one case, where a mother commented in passing about unexplained bruises on her children, Judge Michael Koury requested that they be brought to him that very day so he could ensure there is no abuse.
4) Some PFAs are agreed orders. 14 of the 200 matters reviewed resulted in agreed PFAs.
5) Contempt of a PFA is uncommon, but not rare. Of 200 cases, contempt proceedings were filed in only 17 of them.
6) Jail is rare. - Of the 200 cases studied, only 2 jail sentences were seen. One was for 24 hours and another was for 90 days.
7) The PFA staff is very helpful. - Far from being "lazy", as they were portrayed by Tricia Mezzacappa, this staff has always been helpful to the victims of abuse. Not only do they help in the preparation of complaints, but they accompany parties to the courtroom and ensure that Court Orders are timely delivered to police and Sheriffs. They see the abuse first hand, every day, and you could not pay me to do what they do.