Protection from Intimidation Order: Another Reason to Avoid Social Media
“Can I get a Restraining Order?”
That’s a question I’m typically asked once or twice a year by a discontented neighbor, co-worker, or student. Until July 1, 2015, my answer was “…not unless you slept with them or are related to them.”
In my experience, such disagreements abated and, frankly, both parties were better off for having avoided court proceedings. Well, post- July 1, 2015, the answer to the above question is quite different when Pennsylvania’s “Protection of Victims of Sexual Violence or Intimidation” statute was passed by our typically (over-) reactionary Legislature. In addition to provisions allowing for Restraining Orders for victims of sexual violence Sexual Violence Protection Orders (“SVP”) not covered by our existing Protection From Abuse (PFA) statute, the Act goes one step further and allows for Protection from Intimidation Orders (“PFI”).
PFI’s enable a minor (someone under 18) to obtain a restraining order against someone older than 18 upon pleading and proving to a Court by a preponderance of evidence (basically, greater than 50% more likely than not) that they have been subjected to Harassment by communication or Stalking. The effect of this statute has already been seen in my home County of Chester. A high school student has sought PFI’s against fellow students accused of cyber-bullying (harassment through social media).
Here’s what this means to your high school-aged child:
(1) they can have a PFI lodged against them by a Common Pleas Judge;
(2) such PFI Order can be in effect for up to three years;
(3) should they allegedly violate the Order (e.g., a snide remark in the hallway at school or offensive post on social media) they are subject to immediate arrest for Indirect Criminal Contempt, conviction of which calls for a fine of up to $1000 and incarceration of up to 6 months.
Is this really necessary? Could not the statute have been written to apply to defendants over 21, for instance? Or how about leaving Harassment, a generally minor offense, out of it altogether?
To be clear: I do not condone or minimize the effects of cyber-bullying. But, I remember a time when disagreements between high school students were settled among parents and school administrators. Frankly, as stated above, I believe such disagreements are best left out of the courts, let alone subjecting an immature teenager to incarceration.
This article is informational only and not intended as legal advice. Speak with a licensed attorney about your own specific situation.
For more information, please contact Peter Kratsa by phone (610.436.0100) or email.