Domestic violence is a significant problem in this country. Many victims are scared to come forward for fear of recrimination, especially in the gap between when they make their accusation and when penalties against their abuser would take effect. Pennsylvania passed the Protection From Abuse Act (PFA) for this reason, granting temporary restraining orders to abuse victims that take effect very quickly, before a full hearing occurs.
However, some people take advantage of this system to make false accusations against others, which can lead to serious consequences. What happens when you’re the target of one of these false accusations?
A One-Sided Petition With Real Penalties
When someone files a petition to start the PFA process, the court will only hear evidence from the plaintiff—you do not get to speak on your own behalf until up to 10 days later when the actual hearing takes place. During that time the court may decide to grant a temporary restraining order against you, which can happen within a few hours. This restraining order can prevent you from doing many things, including:
- Living in your own home
- Carrying firearms
- Seeing your children
The burden of proof when filing the petition is much lower than it is during a trial, which means that false accusations can stick more easily. Even if the full hearing eventually clears you—even if the accusations are completely unfounded—violating the temporary restraining order before the hearing can carry criminal consequences, which will give you a permanent record. This can impact your parental custody, future job prospects, housing, and other areas of your life.
What to Do When Someone Makes False Abuse Accusations Against You
Being falsely accused of something can be an incredibly stressful and overwhelming experience, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself and defend your reputation.
Here are some things you can do when someone makes false accusations against you:
- Remain Calm: While it’s natural to feel angry or defensive when someone accuses you of something you didn’t do, it’s important to remain calm and composed. Reacting with anger or aggression can make you appear guilty and can escalate the situation.
- Gather Evidence: Collect any evidence that supports your innocence, such as emails, text messages, receipts, or witnesses. This can help you to build a strong case and demonstrate that the accusations are false.
- Focus on Your Mental Health: Being falsely accused can take a toll on your mental health, so it’s important to take care of yourself. Reach out to friends and family for support, practice self-care, and consider seeking counseling if necessary.
- Seek Legal Advice: If the accusations are serious and could lead to legal action, it’s important to seek legal advice. A lawyer can advise you on your rights and help you to navigate the legal process.
While you cannot defend yourself during the initial petition phase, you can do so at the PFA hearing. Having an attorney on your side who knows the stakes and can advocate on your behalf is critical. Many innocent people go into the PFA hearing without representation, confident that they can dispel these false accusations. However, simple missteps can easily undermine their defense, leaving them with no option but to accept the unfair terms of a much longer and more durable restraining order.
You should not be subject to this kind of treatment. By crafting a vigorous defense, an attorney can save you from years of onerous legal restrictions, the violation of which can lead to even more serious consequences. You need to assert your rights as strongly as possible, as early as possible. Only then will you stand the best chance of defeating false accusations.