Sunday, October 02, 2005

abuse - contempt - knowledge of PFA order

Commonwealth v. Padilla - Pa. Superior Court - September 28, 2005

Defendant was found guilty of contempt for violating a temporary PFA order which had not been served on him but which he knew about from a phone call from the sheriff. During the call, the sheriff told defendant a) that there was an order, b) that it prohibited any contact with the plaintiff, and c) what the consequences were of violating it.

Despite this knowledge, Defendant made several phone threats to the plaintiff, during 5-6 harassing phone calls. Later that same day, Defendant was served with a copy of the temporary PFA order.

To establish indirect criminal contempt, one must show that a) the order was sufficiently clear to the contemnor as to leave no doubt of the conduct prohibited; b) the contemnor had notice of the order; c) the act was prohibited by the order; and d) the intent of the contemnor in committing the act was wrongful.

The only issue in the case was notice. The court held that "the telephone conversations during which Appellant was informed of the emergency order and the repercussions of violating it constitute actual notice or its equivalent even in the absence of personal service." The court discussed due process issues and the " 'special exigencies of abuse cases' ". It also mentioned 23 Pa. C.S. sec. 6016(g), which says the "[f]ailureto serve shall not stay the effect of a valid order."

The court found that "the verbal explanation provided to Appellant over the telephone was adequate to convey notice that a PFA order had been entered against him, and that a violation of that order placed him at risk of criminal penalty. He was, therefore, properly found to have been in indirect criminal contempt of court."

Donald Marritz, staff attorney
MidPenn Legal Services