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Protection from Abuse: What it means for George Zimmerman

Protection from Abuse in Pennsylvania (PFA)

Once again, George Zimmerman is finding himself the target of tabloid fodder and the headline of many major newspapers. However, this time his publicity is not related to the Trayvon Martin case, but to a domestic altercation that occurred between Zimmerman and his estranged wife, Shellie. Shellie Zimmerman called the police on her husband on September 9, 2013, alleging that he had threatened her and her parents with a gun. She also stated that Zimmerman punched her dad in the nose and smashed her iPad. Following the incident, Zimmerman was taken into investigative detention and was later released. Shellie Zimmerman ultimately decided not to press charges against her husband. This alleged domestic battery came only days after Shellie filed for divorce from her husband.

As in many divorces, emotions between Shellie and George are likely running high. It is not uncommon for couples who have never experienced any domestic violence during their marriage to find themselves involved in a physical altercation during a divorce proceeding. Many times, these physical altercations will result in a restraining order, or what is called a Protection from Abuse order (PFA) in Pennsylvania, being filed.

In Pennsylvania, a PFA can be issued against a parent, current or former spouse, child, or current or former sexual partner. A PFA is a civil order issued in response to domestic violence or abuse. PFA's are governed by the Protection from Abuse Act, which sets rigid guidelines for what constitutes abuse. According to the Protection from Abuse Act, the occurrence of one or more of the following acts is necessary to obtain a PFA in Pennsylvania:

· Attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or incest with or without a deadly weapon;

· Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury;

· The infliction of false imprisonment;

· Physically or sexually abusing minor children; and

· Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts towards another person, including following the person, without proper authority, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.

If George Zimmerman did in fact threaten his wife with his gun, or imply that he would hurt her with his gun, she likely would have been able to obtain a temporary PFA order against him in Pennsylvania based on the fact that he placed her in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury. When a judge in Pennsylvania grants a temporary PFA order, a final hearing must be held within 10 business days to determine whether a more permanent order will be entered.

Relief granted under a PFA includes directing the offending party not to abuse the victim or victim's minor children, excluding the offending party from the victim's residence, awarding temporary custody of minor children to the victim, directing the offending party to pay spousal and/or child support to the victim, and directing the offending to have no contact with the victim or the victim's children.

Although PFAs are civil orders, they are enforced criminally. Therefore, if an offending party violates a PFA order, arrest is mandatory and they will face criminal sanctions in the form of imprisonment of up to six months, supervised probation, and fines ranging from $300 to $1,000.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of domestic violence, contact our experienced domestic violence attorneys today at 724-940-0100 for assistance. 

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