PFAs and Private Criminal Complaints

Posted by Joseph Lento | Dec 23, 2021 | 0 Comments

Usually, only public prosecutors have the authority to file a criminal complaint, based on evidence that police gather. But when a defendant violates a Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, private persons can bring their own criminal charges. Private persons don't generally have the education and training of public prosecutors. Nor do they ordinarily have the power of public prosecutors. And yet, those whom PFA orders protect in effect assume the powers of prosecutors.

A Representative Case

A recent case illustrates the power of private persons to enforce PFA orders. A media report indicates that the estranged wife of a man who committed a murder/suicide filed a private criminal complaint to enforce a PFA order that should have protected the murder victims. Tragically, those victims included the woman's daughters. Typically, a criminal complaint in a PFA case would be against the restrained person for violating the order. In this case, though, with the perpetrator dead by his own hand, the woman filed the criminal complaint against the York Area police chief who, the woman alleged, blocked enforcement of the PFA order.

Appropriate Enforcement

Private enforcement of PFA orders is perfectly appropriate in some cases. Section 6113.1 of Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act authorizes the person who obtains a PFA order to file a criminal complaint against a defendant who violates the order. For private criminal charges under Section 6113.1, the violation must be non-economic in nature. In other words, failure to pay child or spousal support or some similar financial obligation the PFA order imposes is not grounds for private criminal charges. But any of the following non-economic violations, among many other examples, could warrant a private criminal complaint against the defendant:

  • physical abuse of a protected person
  • mental, emotional, and other non-physical abuse of a protected person
  • other contact with a protected person violating a no-contact provision
  • stalking, surveilling, or similar threatening acts
  • entry into the protected person's home or workplace
  • removal, transport, or other interference with child custody
  • possession of firearms or other weapons

Retain a Pennsylvania PFA Attorney

Effectively pursuing or effectively defending criminal charges relating to a PFA order requires legal knowledge and skill. Representing yourself in a criminal proceeding is so difficult as to be unwise. If you need to file criminal charges to enforce your PFA order, or if you face PFA criminal charges, then don't go it alone. The risks are too great that you won't succeed in your most-important objectives: protecting yourself, your loved ones, and your interests while enforcing your rights in a fair proceeding. Retain Pennsylvania PFA attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm for your PFA proceeding. Attorney Lento has the extensive experience and aggressive advocacy skills necessary for criminal proceedings. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or online for a prompt consultation with attorney Lento.

About the Author

Joseph Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a veteran of one of the nation's busiest family courts with nearly 20 years' experience passionately helping families. By day, he worked in the trenches of family court, and at night, he studied the law. He helped countless families while working at family court, and he went on to become an attorney, dedicating his law practice to continuing the work he started years earlier. Mr. Lento's experience both behind the scenes and on the front lines allows him to understand a client's family law matter from all angles, and allows him to find and employ the most effective strategies to get favorable outcomes for any client. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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The LLF Law Firm Team has decades of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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