Because domestic violence is not its own crime in Pennsylvania, the details of the arrest will determine whether it is a felony charge or not.
Pennsylvania laws include domestic violence in charges, like assault, aggravated assault, and battery. When an individual reports domestic violence in the household, local police can make an arrest if they believe the claims to be true, even without a warrant. This is done to protect the victims. Whether or not that arrest leads to legal charges depends on the local prosecutor. If the defendant’s actions fall under another type of crime, such as assault or battery, but it was against a family member, then it may be considered an act of domestic violence.
This means that it is not up to the victim on whether or not they want to press charges. This can complicate things, especially if the victim admits later that they misrepresented facts, which is often done out of anger. This also means that the prosecutor could pursue felony charges. The argument behind this policy is that police officers are not often given enough evidence or time to make a decision. In an attempt to reduce error, which could ultimately harm the victim, the state takes the strong stance of arresting them and pursuing charges on their behalf.
What Is Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania?
A misdemeanor domestic violence crime in Pennsylvania must include the following:
- The crime is considered a misdemeanor, according to federal, state, or tribal laws
- The crime includes the use, or attempted use, of physical force OR the threat of a deadly weapon
- The crime was committed by someone categorized as domestic, which includes a current spouse, an ex-spouse, parent or guardian, by someone whom the victim shares a common relative with, by a person cohabitating with the victim, or one of their family members.
Domestic violence can include acts of bodily injury of any type, including assault (sexual or not), rape, or knowingly behaving in a repetitive way that puts the person in fear of bodily injury. This could include acts of stalking.
Domestic violence in Pennsylvania can be included in existing crimes. A few of these include:
- Simple assault
- Reckless endangerment
- Intimidation of victim
- Terroristic threats
- Criminal coercion
- Indecent assault
- Retaliation against a victim
Because any crime can be categorized as domestic if it meets the above criteria, most crimes can include potential domestic violence charges, in addition to existing ones.
What Are the Potential Consequences of Domestic Violence Charges in Pennsylvania?
The potential consequences for domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania can be severe, including:
- Jail time
- Expensive fines
- A permanent criminal record, including felony charges
Other consequences can also arise from domestic violence charges. For example, the judge may order a restraining order against the person. This can lead to the defendant having to move, losing child custody rights, losing the ability to own a firearm, and it could even affect their employment opportunities.
The outcome of domestic violence charges varies, depending on the prosecutor. The prosecutor might request felony criminal charges for severe cases, or they might allow the offender to take anger management classes, instead. The prosecutor is likely to consider things such as the severity of the injuries, as well as if the offender has any prior domestic violence reports.
The legal consequences of domestic violence charges can be further impacted, based on the degree of the misdemeanor. Crimes are categorized into first, second, and third-degree misdemeanors, as well as first, second, and third-degree felonies.
What Are Your Legal Rights Following a Domestic Violence Charge?
Because Pennsylvania takes domestic violence accusations very seriously, it is important to have the right representation. If you believe that you were wrongly accused of domestic violence, it is important to take the potential charges seriously, as the outcome could negatively affect your life. Working with a domestic abuse defense lawyer is crucial as you begin to explore your options.
What Defenses Are Available for Domestic Dispute Charges?
Disagreements often occur among family members. While the purpose of strict domestic violence laws is to protect victims, these same laws can sometimes harm individuals who are not actually guilty of domestic violence. If you were wrongly charged with domestic violence, you may have a few options available:
- Claims are untrue: Untrue allegations of domestic violence may be done in an attempt to gain control or punish an individual.
- The violence was accidental: This defense admits that the victim suffered an injury, but that it was accidental.
- Intoxication: Intoxication, voluntarily or involuntarily, may be a defense when the defendant’s intoxication prevented them from having specific intent in a crime.
- No violence occurred: If no violence occurred, you may be able to claim that you never had an intent to harm the victim.
- Self-defense: Self-defense is a common reaction when an individual feels that their safety is threatened. You might also claim the defense of others, such as your children.
- Provocation: Provocation is different from self-defense; in that, it is a justifiable action in response to someone else’s actions.
Domestic violence is often one person’s word against another’s, especially if the violence in question includes verbal threats. The burden of proof is on the prosecutor to prove your guilt against all unreasonable doubt. If this cannot be done, then you may be found innocent. With the serious implications of domestic violence charges, it is important that you discuss your options with a Pennsylvania domestic violence lawyer.
If you are facing domestic violence charges, whether they are categorized as a misdemeanor or a felony, it is important to seek legal representation as soon as possible. The risk is too great to go alone. You could face jail time, as well as expensive fines, while also potentially losing custody of your children.