Hunting Offenses in Pennsylvania

Here are the key takeaways from this article:

  1. Your hunting privileges can be revoked for any hunting offense. Game Wardens and Judges do not have to tell you in advance about the revocation.
  2. If you are charged with a summary 1, 2 or 3 offense you really should talk to an attorney.
  3. The PA Hunting and Trapping Digest is NOT an official statement of the law. It is a summary.
  4. To be convicted of baiting, you have to know or have reason to know the bait was there and the bait has to serve as an effective lure for the area where you were hunting.
  5. If you encounter a Game Warden, you are required to identify yourself and provide your license and tags. In a few cases you are required to give other information. Do not lie to them.

I. Do NOT Blindly Plead Guilty to Hunting Offenses

In Pennsylvania there are about two dozen possible charges that a hunter could receive under the Game Code. There are about five that we see very commonly.

All Game Code offenses are given a grading and a range of penalties. The vast majority of Game Code offenses are summary offenses. Summary offenses are the least serious type of offense in Pennsylvania and are almost always punishable by a fine. There are a couple Game Code Offenses that could be misdemeanors, but those are the most serious and beyond the scope of this article.

The Game Code divides summary offenses into eight categories with summary 1 being the most serious and summary 8 being the least serious. Here are the range of fines:

  • Summary offense of the first degree: Not less than $1,000 nor more than $1,500 and may be sentenced to imprisonment up to three months.
  • Summary offense of the second degree: Not less than $400 nor more than $800 and may be sentenced to imprisonment up to one month.
  • Summary offense of the third degree: Not less than $250 nor more than $500.
  • Summary offense of the fourth degree: Not less than $150 nor more than $300.
  • Summary offense of the fifth degree: Not less than $100 nor more than $200.
  • Summary offense of the sixth degree: $75.
  • Summary offense of the seventh degree: $50.
  • Summary offense of the eighth degree: $25.

See 34 Pa. C.S.A. 925. Please note that while jail time is possible for some summary offenses, it is virtually never imposed.

Please also be aware that the Game Commission is entitled to seek replacement costs for an unlawfully taken animal. Those replacement costs are determined in advance and published in regulations. 58 Pa. Code 131.8.

Under Pennsylvania law, the Game Commission can revoke your hunting privileges for any violation of hunting requirements even if you are not convicted. 34 Pa. C.S.A. 929(a) and 2741. Typically a first offense can only result in a revocation of up to 3 years, although there are exceptions. 34 Pa. C.S.A. 2742(a).

Neither a Game Warden nor a Magisterial District Judge is required to tell you about the possible revocation. Revocations ARE NOT imposed by the Magisterial District Judge. Revocations are a separate administrative proceeding imposed by the Game Commission directors out of Harrisburg. A Game Warden CANNOT make a binding promise as to what will happen in terms of revocation. A Game Warden does get to make a recommendation to the directors in Harrisburg. The directors often follow a Game Warden’s recommendation. We have had several clients who felt that they were misled or deceived about revocations by statements from Game Wardens. A misstatement by a Game Warden is not a defense to revocation. Before you plead guilty be sure to know what you are likely facing in terms of revocation.

Revocations of hunting privileges are always for whole year periods and they always run from July 1 to June 30.

The Game Commission has an unpublished standard operating procedure that gives recommended lengths for revocation. The procedure is fairly well understood by those that deal with the Game Commission and the Game Commission does consistently follow that procedure.

Here are the standard revocation recommendations from the Game Commission:

  • Conviction of a Summary One: 3 year revocation
  • Conviction of a Summary Two: 2 year revocation
  • Conviction of a summary Three: 1 year revocation
  • Baiting activity where no animal was taken: Written warning
  • Mistake Kill where kill was properly reported and all other steps followed: No revocation

If you are only convicted of summary four or less serious offenses, it is unlikely that the Game Commission will seek a revocation. If you are not convicted (not charged or found not guilty), it is unlikely that the Game Commission will seek a revocation.

If you are charged with a summary 1, 2 or 3, and you value your hunting privileges, you should consult an attorney BEFORE you plead guilty.

II. The Hunting and Trapping Digest is Good, but Not Necessarily an Accurate Statement of law. There’s More to Baiting than the Digest Says

The Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest is an official publication of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, but it is not an official statement of the law. The Digest is a valuable publication. However, hunters need to realize that the Digest is prepared by employees of the Game Commission. The Digest DOES NOT print the actual statutes or regulations relating to hunting. It prints the Game Commission’s interpretation of the statutes. In Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania General Assembly writes the laws and the Courts make official interpretations of the laws. The Game Commission can make specific regulations to flesh out certain aspects of the laws.

If there is a legal question, the law as stated by the General Assembly or the law as interpreted by the Courts wins out.

For example, here’s what the 2021-22 Digest says about baiting:

Baiting Baiting  is  allowed  conditionally  on  private  property  in  the  Southeast Special  Regulations  Area.  See  detailed  information  on  the  Special Regulations Areas page  within this digest. Elsewhere  in the state,  it is  unlawful  to  hunt  in  or  around  any  area  where  artificial  or  natural bait,  food, hay, grain, fruit, nuts, salt, chemicals or minerals, including their  residues  –  regardless  the  type  or  quantity  –  are  used,  or  have been  used  within  the past  30  days,  as  an  enticement  to  lure  game  or wildlife.  Hunters  are  responsible  for  ensuring  an  area  has  not  been baited  before they begin hunting. They should physically inspect the area  and  question  landowners,  guides  and  caretakers.  This  section does  not  pertain  to  hunting  near  areas  where  accepted  farming  or habitat-management  practices  are  taking  place  (example:  hunting near  food  plots  on  game  lands  is  legal).  The  manipulation  of  crops for  dove  hunting  is  permitted.  Any  natural  or  manmade  nonliving bait can be  used to attract coyotes for hunting or trapping.

This is not quite the law. First, Pennsylvania uses a reasonable hunter standard. Com. v. Sellinger, 763 A.2d 525 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2000). This standard means that a hunter should be aware of the area that they are hunting and whether there is bait present. Checking with landowners, guides and caretakers is a good idea, but is not actually required under the law. As a hunter, if you did not know bait was present, or did not have a reason to know bait was present, you are NOT GUILTY.

Additionally, the courts have accepted the following standard:

The extent of a ‘baited area’ is defined only by the capacity of bait placed anywhere within it to act as an effective lure for the particular hunter charged.

Com. v. Sellinger, 763 A.2d 525, 527 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2000). A hunter is only “hunting over bait” if the hunter is hunting where the bait can be an “effective lure.” There is no set distance under Pennsylvania law.

We have seen many cases in which a hunter believes that they are far enough from bait to lawfully hunt, but the Game Commission disagrees and charges the hunter. The Game Commission is not the final arbiter as to this issue—a judge is. For the hunter to be found guilty, the Game Commission would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the bait was an effective lure in the area being hunted. That’s a difficult case for the Game Commission to make when the hunter is 100 or more yards away from the bait.

It should also be pointed out that the Commonwealth Court does expect the Game Commission to mark off baited areas. See 34 Pa. C.S.A. 2308(a)(8) and Commonwealth v. Redovan, 227 A.3d 453, 458 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2020). In Redovan, the Court found that the Game Commission’s failure to mark a reasonable area around known bait was one of the reasons the charges should have been dismissed.

Unfortunately we have seen a number of cases in which a Game Warden discovers bait and, rather than mark off the area or alert the property owner, they conduct a “sting” operation and surveil that area to see who is hunting. This is questionable activity by the Game Commission and is clearly disfavored by the Commonwealth Court. There may be other court cases that will define the scope of the Game Warden’s obligations when they discover bait.

III. Interacting with the Game Commission

Hunting licenses and tags must be carried with you when hunting. 34 Pa. C.S.A. 2711(a)(1) 58 Pa. Code § 143.2. Hunters are required to produce identification to Game Wardens. 34 Pa. C.S.A. 904(b). Hunters are not required to have any other interaction other than identifying themselves, making reports of taken big game or reporting a mistake kill. 34 Pa.C.S.A. § 2323 and 58 Pa. Code § 141.41 and 34 Pa.C.S.A. § 2306(c)(3). You are not required to give a Game Warden a statement about anything else.

All PA Game Wardens (but not deputies) have now been issued body cameras. We’ve had too many cases in which the body cameras are not used or not working. We’ve also had too many cases where a Game Warden does not take notes. The lack of recording and notes often leads to substantive disputes later about what was said. If you choose to give a statement to a Game Warden, insist that they record it on their body camera. If their camera is not working, offer to provide a written statement. If you have a body camera, it is lawful to record your interactions with the Game Commission. I do recommend that you tell them they are being recorded. DO NOT give an unrecorded statement to the Game Commission.

Providing a false statement to a Game Warden is a violation. 34 Pa.C.S.A. § 906. If you are in a legally questionable situation it may be best not to make a statement to a Game Warden. You are free to tell a Game Warden that you want to interact with them through an attorney. A Game Warden should respect that.

If you are charged with a summary 1, 2, or 3 Game Code offense, review the situation with an attorney prior to entering a plea. Accepting a summary 1, 2 or 3 conviction will likely lead to a revocation of your hunting privileges. Contact Cornerstone Law Firm to review your situation before entering a plea.

Legal Things to Know Before Investing in Rental Properties

With the rise of the DIY movement and the expansion of the mobile workforce in the U.S., investors are clambering to purchase rental properties. Whether they are rehabbing and flipping properties or buying them and turning them into rentals, more investors are interested in the potential returns of real estate investment. If you have attended a seminar, read a book or listened to a podcast on real estate investing, or if you are personally interested in investing, here are some legal issues to consider as you move forward in the rental market.

Sheriff’s Sales and Tax Sales are Much More Dangerous Than You Think

It seems almost too good to be true. All of these properties are available at your county’s tax or sheriff’s sale for tens of thousands of dollars less than what they are worth, according to the best estimate you can find. Why not start your investing there? Well, although sheriff’s sales can represent an incredible opportunity to purchase a property, that purchase can bring its own difficulties. For example, a sheriff’s sale does not extinguish junior liens if those lienholders were not properly notified of the sale. Although the senior lienholder (the one trying to sell the property) is technically responsible for notifying all junior lienholders, it is the new buyer who is left with a property encumbered by liens when proper notification is not given.

Also, there are several title problems that can arise long before the sheriff’s sale. Someone who claims to own a property and even has secured a mortgage for it might not have a clean title. Purchasing a property at a sheriff’s sale does not guarantee you a clean title. In fact, it guarantees you nothing at all except that you have title against the lienholder who sold it and, in most cases, against the debtor who previously owned the property. This is not to discourage you from attending a sheriff’s sale or a tax sale. These can be great investment opportunities, but you must do a careful search of any properties you are considering purchasing to make sure that there are no legal problems or a cloudy title lurking in their past.

Form an LLC for Each Property

You should form an LLC for each property you purchase. These often are named for the street address of the property, but that is not a hard and fast rule. Forming an LLC can be relatively inexpensive once you begin to work with a real estate lawyer or business lawyer you can trust, and you should do so for each individual property. The reason you want an LLC for each property is that it protects the property in the event you have problems in other parts of the business. For example, a slip and fall at property A will limit any claims against Property A to that LLC. These claims will not affect the LLCs holding the other properties. Forming LLCs also allows you to sell off individual properties or businesses at a future time more easily, and it can help you to avoid taxes in that case. Managing properties as part of the portfolio also can be easier when you have an LLC for each property. As the ownership of an LLC in Pennsylvania is not a matter of public record, there also is additional privacy protection in this approach.

Eviction and Ejectment

If a tenant stops paying rent, the landlord’s remedy is eviction. If an occupant never had a right to be there in the first place, the remedy is ejectment. That is the basic difference between eviction and ejectment under Pennsylvania law. Unfortunately, evictions are part of being in the rental business and can take several months. In fact, they can take up to a year depending on all the circumstances involved. Even property owners who are very selective find that they occasionally must evict a tenant who stops paying rent or who damages the property. In most counties in Pennsylvania, getting before a District Justice for an eviction hearing can be done quickly, and the time to bring a case is statutorily prescribed. Nonetheless, obtaining the eviction order can be rather difficult as judges might rely on nonlegal reasons for granting a tenant an extension while they clean out the unit or find new housing. These extensions are more common during the colder months.

Anyone considering being a landlord should speak with an attorney and learn more about Pennsylvania’s Landlord and Tenant Act. Understanding landlord-tenant actions can help you avoid some of the cost and time associated with completing an eviction. Furthermore, when you purchase a property at a tax sale or a sheriff’s sale as discussed above, you might have to remove an individual who has no right to be in the property in the first place. This can be the former owner or a regular squatter, in which case an ejectment is necessary. Unfortunately, this process can take as long or even longer than an eviction.

Conclusion

If you are thinking of renting real estate to others, it is important to know the landscape of this area of law. Contact a real estate attorney at Cornerstone Law today to discuss your options and get to know how to better predict potential problems in the rental business.

August 2022 Review

This month the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm have been busy with:

  • landlord/tenant actions all over the state
  • personal injury cases that are settling and going to court
  • insurance disputes
  • contractor fights
  • a trade secrets and corporate freeze-out trial

Attorney Stephanie Rauch-Mannino has spent much of her month working out final custody arrangements for families that are splitting up, challenging a post nuptial agreement for unfairness, litigating the proper amount of child support to be paid to a single mom and working on a final distribution of assets in several divorces.

Attorney Tony Distasio has been handling landlord/tenant work for Section 8 clients, where evictions are based on everything from unpaid rent to allegations of criminal misconduct and violence. Attorney Distasio has been everywhere from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia this month as part of hearings on these issues.

Attorney Carl Carrero has been writing briefs and motions and has been to court to handle a request for a delay of a sheriff sale. As sheriff sales pickup and foreclosures continue, Attorney Carrero and the Cornerstone Law Firm team are expecting to see more last-minute litigation over attempts to sell houses after foreclosure.

Attorney Joel Ready began the month handling a 2-week trial on a claim regarding trade secrets and a fight over corporate ownership of a large company. From there, he has handled several contract disputes. He has also been finalizing a few guilty plea agreements in the last 2 weeks to ensure the best possible deal for individuals facing criminal charges.

Finally, the whole staff at Cornerstone Law Firm has been working to ensure that clients’ wills are being drafted, contracts are getting signed, deeds are being drawn up and filed, and that clients are getting quick responses to their concerns. If you have a question about your legal issue, call Cornerstone Law Firm today so we can help you.

When a Contractor Doesn’t Finish the Job

Cornerstone Law Firm offered a legal tip to Redfin on how to handle things when a contractor doesn’t finish a home renovation project.

“If you find yourself in a situation where a contractor has not performed as agreed upon, you have legal remedies. You can first reach out to your state’s Attorney General’s office and file a complaint. The office will investigate the claim and encourage the contractor to remedy the issue if your complaint has merit. If this doesn’t work, you can file a complaint at a local District Court, which can handle judgments up to $12,000 and is designed to be accessible to the public. You can also research other options to take against licensed contractors who don’t honor their contracts. For example, Pennsylvania’s Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act provides strong statutory language against contractors who fail to abide by the requisite legal requirements in entering into and completing home improvement contracts.”

For an extensive overview of ways to deal with unfinished renovations, read the full article here on Redfin’s blog.

 

Reading Real Estate Lawyer

When you need a lawyer in the Reading area who handles real estate there are a few things that you should consider. Berks County offers investors diverse real estate options that range from large farms to townhomes in downtown Reading. Here are a few real estate problems that may require the assistance of one of our real estate lawyers.

Easement Disputes

A common property problem in Berks County, Pennsylvania are disputes over easements. This can happen in a number of situations, including where a farm or other lot of real estate has been subdivided and no one has clearly marked where the lanes of travel over one of the subdivided pieces of land will go. Sometimes owners who buy a lot of land or a house are surprised to find out that someone else has a right to use their land to travel on or for other reasons. Still others take unlawful actions to try to disrupt the right of use of an easement. Even when an easement is not written into a deed, it may still be legally enforceable. At Cornerstone Law Firm, our Real Estate Attorneys can help you to figure out your rights in regards to an easement.

Partition and Sale In Lieu of Partition

If you own a home or other property with someone else and you no longer wish to own it with them, you may need to partition the property or sell it rather than partition it. This can happen after a break-up, in the case of an unmarried couple, or even after a divorce, if the divorce was not fully and properly documented. Partitions also happen when investments go south or when a business no longer wishes to operate a property for profit. Your rights in a partition can include an equitable distribution of profits, an assessment of costs against someone’s share of a sale, and more. You’ll definitely want an experienced real estate attorney to help you through the process.

Fraud In Real Estate Deals

Unfortunately, fraud in real estate deals in Reading is not unusual. Both by virtue of malicious intent and because of misunderstandings, sellers and buyers sometimes try to take advantage of each other in ways that are unlawful. If you’ve entered into a purchase agreement, and you believe they’re no longer acting in good faith, your options may include a fraud claim, a partition action, or a constructive trust.

Although Pennsylvania’s statute of frauds generally invalidates contracts that are not in writing if they involve land, there are exceptions to this rule. These exceptions include when someone has invested money into the improvement of a property that confirms a possessory interest or where equitable doctrines bar the application the statute of frauds.

Conclusion

In all of these situations, speaking with an experienced Real Estate Attorney can be incredibly beneficial in settling the matter in a way that’s best for you. Give us a call at Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss with us how we can help.

Can I legally fly a drone in Pennsylvania?

With the rise of inexpensive drones (or Unmanned Aircraft Systems, known as UAS), the number of remote pilots is growing by the day. If you live in Pennsylvania, can you operate a drone legally? What drone regulations in Pennsylvania should you be aware of?

The short answer is yes: the Federal Aviation Administration retains exclusive jurisdiction to regulate the National Air Space (NAS), and their regulations allow operation of a drone for recreational purposes as long as the drone is between .55 and 55 pounds, including anything attached to the drone.

If you are flying a drone for commercial purposes, including for video, photography, construction inspections and more, then you must obtain a “Part 107 Certificate” through the FAA to fly your drone.

However, many states and localities are trying to jump in and regulate drones also. These regulations are, in most cases, legally unenforceable because Federal Law preempts state law whenever Federal Law is intended to “occupy the field.” Because the FAA’s regulations are meant to be exclusive, state laws are almost certainly pre-empted in most cases.

In Pennsylvania, the legislature has made it easy on remote pilots by explicitly preempting any regulations at the county or local level. Harrisburg retains the power to make any state regulations. And the Commonwealth has passed only one statute so far dealing with drones: 18 Pa.C.S. Section 3505, which makes it a crime to do things with a drone that would be criminal if done otherwise, such as harassing someone or invading their privacy.

Pennsylvania’s law also provides certain common law rights to individuals, and invading privacy or standing on their land while operating a drone may come with legal consequences, even if it is not technically “illegal.”

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys are experienced in regulatory and criminal law, and can help you navigate your drone legal issues. One of our attorneys is even registered as a Part 107 Certificate holder, so you can be confident you’re getting advice from attorneys who understand your industry. Call us today.

May 2021 Update

May 2021 has been filled with trials and advanced litigation for the attorneys of Cornerstone Law Firm. On the civil side, attorney Joel Ready spent time litigating a partnership dispute in Lehigh County court, giving advice to several businesses to avoid personnel and human resources litigation, promulgating discovery in personal injury cases based in Berks County and preparing for a summer of trials. A number of Cornerstone Law’s criminal clients were able to obtain trial dates this month, allowing them to finally pursue their innocence in a proceeding before a jury.

On the transactional side, several businesses hired Cornerstone Law Firm to draft contracts and to create new bylaws and other operating agreements for their businesses and nonprofits. These ranged from employment agreements to more complex inter-business cooperation agreements, and also agreements to resolve potential areas of dispute between rival businesses.

Attorney Crossett has been involved in several mediation for personal injury clients, obtaining settlement for car accident victims and those injured in other accidents. Furthermore, Attorney Crossett has finalized complex land deals this month for clients with conflicting real estate claims.

At Cornerstone Law Firm we are happy that the world is slowly getting back to normal, and we are looking forward to the nice weather in the summer months!

Injured in a car accident in Berks County, Pennsylvania? Here’s what to do

Injured in a car accident in Berks County, Pennsylvania? Here’s what to do

When you have been injured in a car accident in Berks County, what steps should you take to protect yourself? Dealing with an insurance company can be very difficult and having your case prepared properly is very important. Here are three steps you should take if you have been injured so that you can set up a proper claim with your insurance company.

  1. Get all medical treatment your doctor suggests

The first and most important suggestion that anyone should consider when they are injured in a car accident is to get the medical treatment that their primary care physician tells them to get. This may mean an initial ride to the hospital and treatment in an emergency room, but also can include follow up rehabilitation visits and meetings with the orthopedic surgeons or other doctors and specialists. It’s tempting to try to be tough in situations like this, and it’s also natural to be concerned about the medical bills that might result. If you’ve been injured in a car crash, you should know that your car insurance includes personal injury protection (PIP) coverage.

Pennsylvania state law requires your insurance to cover at least $5,000.00 of medical bills. Depending on your particular policy, you may have even more coverage than that. And because this PIP coverage is given greater buying power under state law, this represents a lot of medical treatment. So, if your doctor tells you to get counseling, see a rehabilitation specialist, or suggests any other course of treatment, do it and make sure to submit the bills to your car insurance company. This is one of the only times in life where your medical treatment will be paid entirely by someone else without a copay or any other cost to you, so there is no reason not to pursue it. In addition, pursuing this treatment will build your claim regarding your car accident.

  1. Don’t speak to an insurance adjuster without legal advice

The requirements of politeness often make people think that they have to speak to an insurance adjuster who calls them shortly after an accident. This is not the case. An insurance adjuster, even for your insurance company, may not have your best interest at heart. They may call you and ask you how you are feeling, all as part of trying to get a statement out of you that can be used against you later. There is really no need to correspond with your insurance company until your treatment is complete or until the statute of limitations on your case is about to run out. For this reason, it’s important that you speak with a lawyer before you take the call from an insurance adjuster. A personal injury attorney in Berks County can help you to determine whether speaking to an adjuster is in your best interests or not.

  1. Know your rights

The most important thing you should remember after a car accident is to know your rights. You have a right to be compensated for the injuries that you suffer. This compensation can include pain and suffering that you have experienced as a result of the accident, lost wages, and of course, any medical bills your PIP coverage did not take care of. In other words, it’s not just about getting your medical bills paid. It can also include your lost wages and the trouble you’ve had getting back to work. All of these should be factored into an appropriate settlement.

  1. Conclusion – Call a Reading, PA Personal Injury Lawyer Today

At Cornerstone Law Firm, we help people who have been injured here in the Berks County area with their injury claims, ranging from car accidents to wrongful death. Our office is in Blandon, just outside of Reading and we help people throughout the county to gather what is necessary to present their claim and to make sure they’re getting the best settlement possible. If you have a question, call us at 610-926-7875 for a free consultation about your injury case.

Four steps to take when you’re served with a false Protection from Abuse Order

Four steps to take when you’re served with a false Protection from Abuse Order

Protection from Abuse Orders, or PFAs, are the mechanism that Pennsylvania uses to protect someone claiming to be the victim of domestic violence. Some states refer to this as a “restraining order,” but in Pennsylvania, the concept is strictly limited to former or current sexual partners or members of the same household. Furthermore, to obtain a PFA, someone has to show that they are afraid of imminent harm at the hands of the defendant. If you’ve been served with a PFA Order and told not to contact someone, here are four things you need to consider immediately in preparing to defend yourself.

  1. Do not contact the person who filed the PFA

First, it is important for you to know that a Protection From Abuse Order is first entered against you “ex parte.” This means it is ordered by a judge without you present or knowing about it. Under Pennyslvania law, you will almost always first hear about someone’s allegations that you abused them from a Sheriff serving you with an order. Shockingly to most defendants, this Order is entered by a Court before you ever have a chance to defend yourself. It is vital that you not contact the person alleging abuse, as this is illegal pursuant to the Court Order. Unfortunately, many PFA defendants make that their first course of action. It’s natural to think this is a misunderstanding that can be cleared up, or to confront the person about what’s in the PFA. It’s natural—but it’s also illegal, and will land you in hot water. This is true even if the victim contacts you and says it was a mistake to file against you. Don’t respond to them: call an attorney.

Until your hearing, you are legally prohibited from contacting the person who filed the PFA against you and doing so is a criminal offense. You can be charged with an Indirect Criminal Contempt, which is a misdemeanor, and which can come with jail time. In other words, you can end up in jail for violating a PFA based on false facts. Your violation of the PFA is an independent crime known as Indirect Criminal Contempt in Pennsylvania. Your first call should be to a PFA attorney—not to the alleged victim.

  1. Determine your goals—and the other person’s—in formulating a response.

PFAs are usually not filed in a vacuum. They often precede a divorce or custody action. Is the person filing the PFA against you doing so out of spite or are they hoping to get you out of a house so they can change the locks? Do they really believe you’ve been emotionally abusive, or is this a cynical ploy on their part? Is the goal to make it hard for you to move forward with custody? Understanding what the other side is attempting to do in filing a PFA is vital to determining your next steps.

As discussed below, a PFA can be consented to in some situations, meaning you might wish to agree to the entry of an order prohibiting you from contacting this person. This is especially true if basic agreements in a parallel criminal case or custody action can be resolved as part of such an agreement. In other situations, consenting to a PFA would be disastrous. The goals of the parties are a major piece to determining your next step.

  1. Gather your evidence

A challenge to defending against false PFAs is in the very nature of the charge. It usually comes down to “he said, she said” in court, and it requires showing that the person claiming abuse is lying or grossly exaggerating. What evidence can you produce to show this is false? Was the argument legally caught on video in the house? Sometimes surveillance footage from a doorbell or security system is available. Did the alleged victim text you about the argument later? In some cases, an alleged victim has written a narrative about what happened for a third party, clearly stating there was no physical abuse. This can be important as well.

Of course, sometimes, there is no “hard” evidence about the alleged assault. It really is one person’s story against another. Having an experienced trial attorney on your side becomes even more important in these cases. Poking holes in a story without hard evidence is a challenge, but it can be done.

  1. What do you get if you “win” or “lose?”

Perhaps the most important issue is understanding the legal standard required of someone requesting a PFA and understanding what you get when you “win” or “lose.” If you prevail in defending against a PFA, no one is required to reimburse you for legal costs, and the PFA petition is dismissed. It can be refiled upon a showing of a new instance of abuse—but not for the matters in the original PFA.

“Losing” on a PFA is more serious in that it results in the entry of an order against you to prohibit you from contacting the alleged victim. It can also have a negative impact on your custody case, if one is ongoing, and potentially can be factored into a divorce decree in certain circumstances.

But PFAs can also be entered by agreement, and usually do not carry similar penalties. A PFA can be entered without a judge finding wrongdoing where both parties agree that they don’t object to an order prohibiting one person from contacting the other. In some cases, both parties consent to PFAs between each other. Sometimes PFAs are a mechanism to ensure that both parties feel that they can move on with their lives without constantly fighting over whether their communications cross the line.

But this doesn’t mean that consenting to a PFA is a good idea. Depending on your divorce, custody and financial situations, PFAs can have profoundly negative impacts on your life. A good PFA lawyer can help you decide whether consenting to a PFA with certain agreements can be better than fighting over the PFA, or whether it is a bad idea.

Conclusion: Consult with an experienced PFA lawyer

Having a PFA entered against you can be a serious problem, and can create issues for you and your family. Understanding what your options are in defending a PFA can put you and your family in a position to ensure that you aren’t harmed by the entry of a Protection From Abuse Order. If you’re local here in Berks County, call the attorneys at Cornerstone Law Firm to discuss your Protection From Abuse Order and how we can help you.

January 2021 Update

Attorney David Crossett has continued working through personal injury claims for car accident victims in Reading, Pennsylvania this month. Speaking of clients who are concerned about whether their car insurance was sufficient during a car accident, Attorney Crossett explains: “Clients who are ‘limited tort’ should not assume their insurance will not cover their injuries, especially when the injuries are catastrophic. We don’t want to see clients give up their rights in those situations.” Attorney Crossett’s work has also included mediation with judges in attempts to help clients resolve their conflicts outside of court.

Meanwhile, Attorney Joel Ready has been handling a number of civil rights matters, including for violations of the 1st Amendment. “Harassment claims, in particular, bring an important legal issue into the crosshairs,” Attorney Ready explains. As part of his work in this area, Attorney Ready appeared on WFMZ to speak about the First Amendment’s application to private life and employment issues.

Finally, Tim Crossett, Cornerstone’s Firm Administrator, has been working on the launch of the all new web-show, “Business in Berks,” a series of interviews with local business owners about the challenges of 2020 and beyond. The show goes live in February on our youtube channel.

At Cornerstone Law Firm, our attorneys and staff are hoping that 2021 is more pleasant for the world than its predecessor! We look forward to helping you in the coming year.