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Legal Advocacy

Legal Remedies:
It is a crime in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to physically harm or threaten to physically harm another person. If the person harming or threatening to harm you is a family or household member, a spouse or former spouse, a current or former sexual or intimate partner, a parent, a sibling, or any other person related to you by blood or marriage, there are options available to you.

Options include:
  • Protection From Abuse Orders (PFA)
  • Private Criminal Complaints
  • Probable Cause Arrests

After reading about these options, feel free to contact a legal advocate at Crisis Center North to ask questions or have further clarification.

Protection From Abuse Order (PFA)
If you or your minor child has been abused by a family or household member there is a legal way to keep the abuser away. You can petition the court for a Protection From Abuse Order (PFA) for yourself and/or your minor child.

A PFA is an order issued by a Judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Family Division. A PFA can grant you immediate relief from abuse by a family or household member.

Under the PFA Act, by law the court can:

  • Order your abuser to stop abusing you
  • Evict or exclude the abuser from your home
  • Order the abuser to pay temporary child and/or marital support
  • Grant temporary custody of minor children to the victim
  • Limit the abuser's access to the children
  • Confiscate firearms from the perpetrator

In order to qualify to file for a PFA, the conduct by the abuser must fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Attempted or actual bodily injury, serious bodily injury or sexual assault
  • Threats of sexual or physical abuse
  • Conduct by the abuser that places the victim in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury
  • False imprisonment
  • Physical or sexual abuse of minor children
  • Stalking

Types of PFA Orders
Emergency PFA - Provides PFA protection after regular court hours and is valid until the end of the next court business day. Emergency PFAs can be obtained at Night Court, Local Magistrate's Courts and at various local sites (hospitals/police stations) with videoconferencing equipment.

Temporary PFA - Provides PFA protection for up to 10 days, or until a final PFA hearing is held. Temporary PFAs can be obtained only at the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Family Division. The Family Division PFA Intake Office is open Monday through Friday 8:30am - 2:30pm (morning arrival is suggested). Hearings are held daily, beginning at 11:30am. Once this order is granted, four copies will be provided; victims are encouraged to immediately deliver the order to their local police department.

Final PFA - Can provide PFA protection for up to 36 months. Final PFAs are granted only after a Family Division Judge hears the case. These hearings are scheduled within 10 days of the temporary hearing and take place at 440 Ross Street, 3rd floor. The alleged abuser has a right to appear at the final PFA hearing, be represented by counsel, and contest the petition. If you cannot attend your scheduled hearing (for good reason), you must notify your attorney immediately so that the hearing can be rescheduled. If you do not show at the final hearing, the case is dismissed. Courts now have the discretion to order the relinquishment of all firearms by someone subject to a PFA and they may also consider risks to children and Plaintiff when deciding custody in a PFA.

Private Criminal Complaint
Any adult who has been the victim of a crime has the right to file a 'Private Criminal Complaint' regarding the alleged offense. A Private Criminal Complaint is not a criminal charge. Private Criminal Complaints are filed at the Magistrate's office with jurisdiction over the location where the alleged offense occurred. Once filed, the Assistant District Attorney assigned to that Magistrate’s Court reviews the Private Criminal Complaint. The Assistant District Attorney then determines if the complaint states sufficient probable cause for a charge to be filed. The filing of a criminal charge is at the discretion of the Assistant District Attorney.

Probable Cause Arrests
Under ordinary circumstances, a police officer that does not see a criminal offense occur must obtain a warrant to arrest an alleged perpetrator. However, in domestic violence cases, a police officer has the power to arrest an alleged offender, if, upon responding to the scene, he or she determines that sufficient probable cause exists to show that the offense was committed and that the alleged offender is the person who committed the offense. This is called a "Probable Cause Arrest."