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Legal Advocacy Services

“Thank you! I learned so much today!” – A CCN Client.

CCN’s legal advocacy program provides clients with information and advocacy when navigating the judicial system. Advocates provide services during PFA hearings; final hearings; and at preliminary hearings at local magistrates’ offices. The legal advocacy team with the adult counselor and volunteer coordinator provide an after-hours response to victims seeking emergency protection orders at local magistrates and police departments. Canine advocates Rune and Ari of CCN’s Paws for Empowerment program also accompany clients in courtroom settings, easing their fear and anxiety and better allowing them to testify. Visit Counseling for more information about the Paws program.

Note that CCN’s legal advocates are not lawyers, and are not qualified to provide legal advice. Please see Resources Directory for other legal aid options.

Generally, legal advocates help clients with the following:

Protection From Abuse Orders (PFA)

If you or your minor child has been abused by a family or household member there is a legal way to keep the abuser away. You can petition the court for a PFA for yourself and/or your minor child.

In order to qualify to file for a PFA, the abuser must be either a current or former intimate partner; blood relative; or a marriage relative. In addition, the conduct by the abuser must fall into one or more of the following categories:

A PFA is an order issued by a Judge of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Family Division. A PFA can grant you immediate relief from abuse by a family or household member.

Under the PFA Act, by law the court can:

Types of PFA Orders

PFA Orders come in three types: Emergency, Temporary, and Final.

Emergency PFA provides PFA protection after regular court hours and is valid until the end of the next court business day. Emergency PFAs can be obtained at Night Court and Local Magistrate’s Courts.

Temporary PFA provides PFA protection for up to 10 days, or until a final PFA hearing is held. Temporary PFAs can be obtained only at the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Family Division. The Family Division PFA Intake Office is open Monday through Friday 8:00 am – 3:00 pm. It is important to arrive early: PFA intake hours are between 8:00 am and 11:00 am. If a victim arrives after 11:00 am, they will be directed to Night Court to file an Emergency PFA and will need to return the next day. Once this order is granted, 2-4 copies of the PFA will be provided to the victim (one for them to keep and others for children's school/daycare, employers, landlords, etc.). The PFA office will fax copies to both the victim's and the abuser's respective police departments.

Final PFA can provide PFA protection for up to 36 months. Final PFAs are granted only after a Family Division Judge hears the case. These hearings are scheduled within 10 days of the temporary hearing and take place at the Family Division, PFA Court which is on the 3rd floor. The alleged abuser has a right to appear at the final PFA hearing, be represented by counsel, and contest the petition. If you cannot attend your scheduled hearing (for good reason), you must notify your attorney immediately so that the hearing can be rescheduled. If you do not show at the final hearing, the case is dismissed. Courts now have the discretion to order the relinquishment of all firearms by someone subject to a PFA and they may also consider risks to children and Plaintiff when deciding custody in a PFA.

Private Criminal Complaint

Any adult who has been the victim of a crime has the right to file a ‘Private Criminal Complaint’ regarding the alleged offense. A Private Criminal Complaint is not a criminal charge. Private Criminal Complaints are filed at the Magistrate’s office with jurisdiction over the location where the alleged offense occurred. Once filed, the Assistant District Attorney assigned to that Magistrate’s Court reviews the Private Criminal Complaint. The Assistant District Attorney then determines if the complaint states sufficient probable cause for a charge to be filed. The filing of a criminal charge is at the discretion of the Assistant District Attorney.

Probable Cause Arrests

Under ordinary circumstances, a police officer that does not see a criminal offense occur must obtain a warrant to arrest an alleged perpetrator. However, in domestic violence cases, a police officer has the power to arrest an alleged offender, if, upon responding to the scene, he or she determines that sufficient probable cause exists to show that the offense was committed and that the alleged offender is the person who committed the offense. This is called a “Probable Cause Arrest.”

Act 71 Information

Crisis Center North acknowledges the amendment to Act 71 (Crime Victim Act) and is working closely with the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office to ensure all victims of domestic violence are notified of court proceedings where their perpetrators bail could be changed or modified. CCN advocates are also providing transportation and accompaniment to ensure victim’s voices are heard in court.

Updated April 27, 2023