What Is an Emergency PFA?

An emergency PFA is a magisterial district judge's after-hours order that lasts only until the next business day that the court is open. A person needing and qualifying for protection can get an emergency PFA order at any time of day or night, on weekdays, weekends, and holidays, whenever the court is unavailable.

How to Get an Emergency PFA Order. A person who needs emergency protection when the courts are closed or otherwise unavailable for a PFA order needs only to call the local police or call 911. Magisterial district judges serve the court as the on-duty judicial officer to issue an emergency PFA order. The court will designate a magisterial district judge to be on call. The police or 911 dispatcher will know how to reach the on-call magisterial district judge for the applicant to get an emergency PFA order. Pennsylvania's Protection from Abuse Act requires the police and court clerks to assist unrepresented persons in obtaining emergency PFA orders.

The Effect of an Emergency PFA Order. An emergency PFA has the full force and effect of a temporary PFA order or final PFA order, even though it only lasts a very short time until the court becomes available. During that short time, the emergency PFA order is in effect, the PFA defendant must comply with the order. If instead, the PFA defendant violates the emergency PFA order, then the plaintiff or police may seek criminal contempt charges against the defendant. A contempt conviction under the Act's Section 6114 can carry a fine of up to $1,000 and jail time up to six months. Treat emergency PFA orders with the respect due other court orders. If you learn of an emergency PFA order against you lacking proper grounds or unduly restrictive, don't violate the order. Instead, promptly retain Pennsylvania PFA defense attorneys on our Criminal Law Team and at the LLF Law Firm to represent you.

Statutory Conditions for an Emergency PFA. A person seeking an emergency PFA order must meet the same core conditions as one who seeks a temporary or final PFA order. The Act's Section 6110(a) on emergency relief provides that the magisterial district judge may issue the emergency PFA order only when “necessary to protect the plaintiff or minor children from abuse upon good cause shown,” adding that “[i]mmediate and present danger of abuse to the plaintiff or minor children shall constitute good cause for the purposes of this subsection.” The plaintiff would not only have to show the danger of imminent abuse but also that the plaintiff was a qualifying “family or household member, sexual or intimate partner, or person who share biological parenthood,” as Section 6102(a) defines. Yet emergency PFA proceedings are ex parte, meaning one-sided. The magisterial district judge only hears the side of the person seeking the order. If that person swears that abuse happened, the person is very likely to get the emergency PFA order.

When an Emergency PFA Expires. The Protection from Abuse Act designs emergency PFA orders to protect the person who obtains the order only until the court reopens, giving the person the opportunity to request a temporary PFA order. That person must go to court on the next business day the court is open to apply for a temporary PFA order. If the person does not go to court seeking a temporary PFA order, the emergency order expires. The Act's Section 6110(b) states that an emergency order “shall expire at the end of the next business day the court deems itself available.” Section 6110(b) also encourages the court to preserve a needed emergency PFA order until the court can turn it into a temporary order: “The court shall schedule hearings on [emergency] protection orders entered by hearing officers ... and shall review and continue in effect protection orders that are necessary to protect the plaintiff or minor children from abuse until the hearing, at which time the plaintiff may seek a temporary order from the court.”

What Happens After an Emergency PFA Expires. Typically, emergency PFA orders turn into full PFA proceedings in the court. The Act's Section 6110(c) requires the court to immediately certify an emergency order to the court to begin a full PFA proceeding. Section 6110(c) states that “certification to the court shall have the effect of commencing proceedings….” The plaintiff, in other words, may not need to do anything more to proceed toward a temporary and final PFA beyond showing up in court, except perhaps to file the required verified statement. The court will have processed the emergency PFA order into a PFA proceeding, ready for the plaintiff to proceed with the request for a temporary PFA order.

The Difference Between Emergency and Temporary Orders. An emergency PFA order is the magisterial district judge's ruling that lasts only until the court reopens. A temporary PFA order is the next order that the court would issue if the court finds that the person seeking the order has met the conditions. The Act's Section 6107(b)authorizes the court to issue a temporary PFA order on basically the same conditions as the emergency PFA order. Emergency PFA orders often turn into temporary PFA orders. Just as with emergency PFA orders, the court usually hears the temporary PFA request ex parte, meaning without the defendant present. One-sided hearings usually result in the relief the party requests at the hearing. If the court issues a temporary PFA order to continue and replace the emergency PFA order, then the temporary order ordinarily lasts until the court holds its hearing on a final PFA order. The Act's Section 6107(a) provides for a final hearing within ten days. The final hearing may well be the first time the PFA defendant can tell the other side of the story.

What to Do About an Emergency PFA Order. If you learn of an emergency PFA order against you, then you should immediately read the order and fully comply with it. You could face arrest and jail for violating an emergency PFA order. If you have any questions or concerns about the emergency order's fairness, reach, or effect, you should also promptly retain premier Pennsylvania PFA attorneys on our Criminal Law Team at the LLF Law Firm to represent you. Our Criminal Law Team has the substantial skill and extensive experience litigating PFA cases that your aggressive and effective defense requires. Contact the LLF Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or online for a prompt consultation with our Criminal Law Team.

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