If I don’t have a hard copy of my out-of-state order, how can law enforcement enforce it?
To enforce an out-of-state order, law enforcement typically may rely on the National Crime Information Center Protection Order File (NCIC-POF). The NCIC-POF is a nationwide, electronic database that contains information about orders of protection that were issued in each state and territory in the U.S. The Protection Order File (POF) contains court orders that are issued to prevent acts of domestic violence, or to prevent someone from stalking, intimidating, or harassing another person. It contains orders issued by both civil and criminal state courts. The types of protection orders issued and the information contained in them vary from state to state.1
There is no way for the general public to access the NCIC-POF. That means you cannot confirm a protection order is in the registry or add a protection order to the registry without the help of a government agency that has access to it.
Typically, the state police or criminal justice agency in the state has the responsibility of reporting protection orders to NCIC. However, in some cases, the courts have taken on that role and they manage the protection order reporting process.2 NCIC–POF is used by law enforcement agencies when they need to verify and enforce an out-of-state protection order. It is managed by the FBI and state law enforcement officials.
However, not all states routinely enter protection orders into the NCIC. Instead, some states may enter the orders only in their own state protection order registry, which would not be accessible to law enforcement in other states. According to a 2016 report by the National Center for State Courts, more than 700,000 protection orders that were registered in state protection order databases were not registered in the federal NCIC Protection Order File.2 This means that if a law enforcement officer is trying to enforce a protection order from another state that is missing from the NCIC, the victim would likely need to show the officer a hard copy of the order to get it immediately enforced. If you no longer have a copy of your original order, you may want to contact the court that issued the order to ask them how you can get another copy sent to you.
1 National Center for Protection Orders and Full Faith & Credit
2 See State Progress in Record Reporting for Firearm-Related Background Checks: Protection Order Submissions, prepared by the National Center for State Courts, April 2016
How do I register my protection order in Pennsylvania?
To register your protection order in Pennsylvania, you must get a certified copy1 of your protection order from the court that issued it and then file it with the prothonotary in the county where you are living or staying. There is no fee for registering your out-of-state order in Pennsylvania.
Once your order is registered, the prothonotary will give a copy of your order to the Pennsylvania State Police, and it will then be registered in the Pennsylvania State Police registry of protection orders.2
If you need help registering your protection order, you can contact a local domestic violence organization in Pennsylvania for assistance. You can find contact information for organizations in your area on our PA Places that Help page.
1 Defined in 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6102
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6104(d)(1)-(2)
Do I have to register my protection order in Pennsylvania in order to get it enforced?
No. Pennsylvania state law does not require you to file your out-of-state protection order in order to get it enforced.1 Pennsylvania gives full protection to an out-of-state protection order and will enforce it as if it were issued by a court in Pennsylvania. Police officers in Pennsylvania are supposed to assume that your out-of-state protection order is real, unless a court says otherwise.2
1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6104(d)(3)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(h)
Will the abuser be notified if I register my out-of-state protection order?
Under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which applies to all U.S. states and territories, the court is not permitted to notify the abuser when a protective order has been registered or filed in a new state unless you specifically request that the abuser be notified.1 However, you may wish to confirm that the clerk is aware of this law before registering the order if your address is confidential.
However, remember that there may be a possibility that the abuser could somehow find out what state you have moved to. It is important to continue to safety plan, even if you are no longer in the state where the abuser is living. We have some safety planning tips to get you started on our Staying Safe page. You can also contact a local domestic violence organization to get help in developing a personalized safety plan. You will find contact information for organizations in your area on our PA Advocates and Shelters page.
1 18 USC § 2265(d)
What is the Pennsylvania State Police registry of protection orders?
The Pennsylvania State Police registry of protection orders is a statewide database that includes all temporary and final protection orders that were issued in Pennsylvania as well as any out-of-state orders that were filed in Pennsylvania. Law enforcement officers and courts can access the registry at any time, but the information is not available to the public.
When your order is issued or filed, the prothonotary will send the information on the order (including the names of the parties, the expiration date of the order, and the specific protections given by the order) to the Pennsylvania State Police registry within 24 hours of the time it is issued or filed. If your order is changed in any way, the prothonotary will send the changes into the registry, and when your order expires, it will be taken out of the registry.1
1 23 C.S. § 6105(e)
What if I don't register my protection order? Will it be more difficult to have it enforced?
If you don’t register your order, it should not be any more difficult to get your order enforced. Neither federal law1 nor state law2 requires that you register your protection order in order to get it enforced. Pennsylvania law says that police officers must enforce an out-of-state protective order as if it were issued in Pennsylvania, and that only a court can declare an out-of-state protective order to be invalid.3
If you are unsure about whether registering your order is the right decision for you, you may want to contact a local domestic violence organization in your area. An advocate there can help you decide what the safest plan of action is for you in Pennsylvania. To see a list of local domestic violence organizations in Pennsylvania, go to our PA Advocates and Shelters page.
1 18 U.S.C. § 2265(d)(2)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6104(d)(3) & (e)
3 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(h)
Does it cost anything to register my protection order?
No. There is no fee for registering your protection order in Pennsylvania.1
1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6104(d)(1)