The recent murder-suicide in Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania, of Stacey Pennington, a Mount Gretna business owner, and her ex-boyfriend, Patrick Lynn Derr, who she had obtained a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) against last December, has again sparked controversy over PFAs; namely, do they work? Ellen Kramer, legal director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) answers with a resounding yes, stating “protective orders do work, but sadly it did not in this case.”
In 2014, 36,260 PFA petitions were filed in Pennsylvania of which 88 percent were granted temporary orders and 16.3 percent were granted final orders. In Lebanon County, 25 individuals, including Pennington, have died as a result of domestic violence since 1998, states Jennifer Snyder, executive director of Domestic Violence Intervention in Lebanon County. Although this number is still too high, states Kramer, “many more domestic violence victims get these orders and break free and go on with safe lives.”
Pennsylvania has three separate types of PFA orders. The first type of order is an Emergency order, which provides the plaintiff with immediate protection when the courts are closed, e.g. weekends, late night, or holidays. These orders are granted by magisterial district judges based solely upon the testimony of the plaintiff. These types of orders only last until the next business day of the court, at which time they expire.
The second type of order is an Ex Parte Temporary order, which provides the plaintiff with temporary protection. These orders are granted by a Common Pleas judge, again, based solely upon the testimony of the plaintiff. These orders last until a full hearing can be held, which is usually within ten business days of entrance of the Ex Parte Temporary order.
The third type of order is a Final order, which occurs after a full hearing at which time both the plaintiff and the defendant have the opportunity to testify, provide exhibits, and offer witnesses. This type of order lasts up to three years and can be extended, if necessary.
Currently, PCADV is advocating for a change in state law to require every Defendant in a PFA matter to relinquish their firearms. Currently, if the PFA order is only temporary in nature, law enforcement is not required to intercept firearms, but judges have the discretion to order relinquishment.
Cara A. Boyanowski concentrates her practice in the field of domestic law and wills and estates. As a domestic law practitioner, she represents clients in simple and complex divorce, support, custody, alimony, step-parent adoptions, name change and same-sex divorce and custody matters. She works out of Obermayer’s Harrisburg, PA office and can be reached at 717-234-5315 or at Cara.Boyanowski@obermayer.com.