Following the fatal shooting of Pennsylvania State Trooper, Landon Weaver, at the end of last December, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence called for revisions in the state's laws and procedures governing protection from abuse orders. Although Trooper Weaver was shot, while investigating an alleged Protection from Abuse (PFA) order violation, reports indicate that there was not an active domestic violence situation, and the person who sought the PFA order was not actually at the residence.
However, this crime underscored the need to implement proposed remedies to shortcomings in present PFA laws and procedures, which were issued at the end of the last legislative session by the Joint State Government Commission. There are plans to reintroduce this measure in the current session.
The Commission made several recommendations addressing firearms. Sixty-one victims were fatally shot, among the 113 victims killed in domestic assaults in Pennsylvania in 2015.
First, courts should have the power to issue a PFA order with a search and seizure order for weapons, if there is cause to believe that the defendant may have weapons and use them to harm the victim. The family exemption from background check for handgun transfers should end, along with the law allowing defendants to transfer their firearms to third-party safe-keepers after a PFA order is issued.
Other problems concerning the dangers posed by defendants who may engage in spousal abuse were also addressed. For example, victims face unnecessary risk by having to serve protection orders upon defendants.
To remedy this, the Committee recommended that sheriffs and other law enforcement personnel serve a PFA order. Courts should also have to evaluate, through use of an evidence-base risk assessment tool, whether a defendant, who violated an order or arrested for a domestic violence crime, can be safely released on bail or would constitute a threat to the victim.
Likewise, courts should have the power to extend or reinstate a PFA order when an incarcerated person is scheduled to be released, and they continue to be a threat to the victim. Local law enforcement should be encouraged to use ongoing GPS monitoring to provide real-time notice to victims that their abusers are nearby.
A domestic abuse victim should seek legal assistance to help assure that existing legal remedies, such as a PFA are obtained. This can help protect rights and safety.
Source: PCADV.org, "Death of state trooper highlights need for PFA changes to enhance victim, community, law enforcement safety," accessed on Jan. 16, 2017