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Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania

Domestic violence allegations are taken very seriously by Pennsylvania law enforcement, and often the result of this is that law enforcement are overeager to make arrests. This can lead to false charges of domestic violence, in situations where the charge is not warranted. It is important to present a strong defense to these charges, as the penalties can be severe.

With the help of experienced criminal defense attorney David J. Cohen at your side every step of the way, you can know that you are represented by an attorney who understands Pennsylvania domestic violence laws and can defend your case.

Domestic Violence - How it is Treated in Pennsylvania

Unlike in many other states, Pennsylvania law does not specifically define "domestic violence." Rather, a "domestic violence" charge happens when a person commits a particular crime from a list that happens to be against a person in a domestic relationship with the suspect.

Under Pennsylvania law, police are given the right to arrest a person suspected of domestic violence or abuse, even without a warrant, so long as the officer has probable cause to believe that certain types of offenses were committed against a person in a domestic relationship. Even though officers are permitted to make such a warrantless arrest, not every arrest is made correctly, and the arrest can be successfully challenged in court under the right circumstances.

Protection From Abuse Orders

A person who claims to be the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or other threats of violence can seek protection from the alleged abuser. This comes in the form of a Protection From Abuse order.

The terms of a Protection From Abuse order can be very restrictive, especially if the two individuals subject to the order live with one another, as is often the case. The person accused of committing the domestic violence may find him or herself out of house and home. Violations of Protection From Abuse orders can also lead to significant criminal penalties for those violations.

"Domestic Relationship" Under Pennsylvania Law

Domestic violence charges happen against a certain person who is considered "family or household members" including:

  • intimate dating partners (both current and former),
  • people who have parented a child or children together,
  • spouses (current or former),
  • people who have "lived as spouses,"
  • parents,
  • children, stepchildren, or adopted children, or
  • others related by blood of "affinity."

There are situations where other individuals may qualify under this definition as well, especially if sharing the same household as the alleged abuser. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you figure this definition out as it applies to your unique case.

Domestic Abuse Crimes

Domestic abuse is defined under certain categories of crimes, that must also be committed against a person in a domestic relationship with the alleged abuser. These crimes include:

  • Causing bodily injury or attempting to cause bodily injury either intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly;
  • Sex crimes, including rape, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, or sexual assault;
  • Any act that places another family member in "reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury,"
  • False imprisonment;
  • Strangulation;
  • Terroristic threats;
  • Involuntary manslaughter;
  • Reckless endangerment;
  • Stalking (engaging in a course of conduct or repeated acts in a way that places another person in reasonable fear of danger); or
  • Physical or sexual abuse of minors.

If any of the above-listed crimes are committed against a person with whom the alleged abuser is in a domestic relationship, the penalties for the underlying crime may be heightened as "domestic violence."

Example: Jonathan and Ann have been dating for over a year and live together in an apartment. One night, in a heated fight, Ann strikes Jonathan over the head with a frying pan, causing him serious injury. Jonathan and Ann are considered to be in a "domestic relationship" because they are in an intimate dating relationship, are household members, and are living as spouses.

As a result, Ann could be arrested if the officer believes her to have committed the crime, even if it is only on Jonathan's word. No warrant is necessarily required. She could be charged with an assault crime, and it would be considered domestic violence as well.

Penalties for Domestic Violence Crimes

Certain crimes of domestic violence are misdemeanors, while others are instead felonies. As there is not a defined offense of "domestic violence" the penalties for it are actually those of the underlying crime upon which the domestic violence took place, i.e. an assault.

When that is the case, the person can be charged with the underlying crime and will face the penalties associated with that crime under Pennsylvania law. These can be extremely serious. Felony charges especially carry the risk of extremely high fines and long prison sentences.

Depending on the crime charged, and the severity of the offense, a person could face the following penalties for domestic violence:

Third Degree Misdemeanor

    • Maximum Fine – $2,500
    • Maximum Sentence – 1 year in jail

Second Degree Misdemeanor

    • Maximum Fine – $5,000
    • Maximum Sentence – 2 years in prison

First Degree Misdemeanor

    • Maximum Fine – $10,000
    • Maximum Sentence – 5 years in prison

Third Degree Felony

    • Maximum Fine – $15,000
    • Maximum Sentence – 7 years in prison

Second Degree Felony

    • Maximum Fine – $25,000
    • Maximum Sentence – 10 years in prison

First Degree Felony

    • Maximum Fine – $25,000
    • Maximum Sentence – 20 years in prison

Depending on the nature of your case, you could face higher or lower penalties than those expressed here. Pennsylvania law has certain mitigating factors that can be considered, or aggravating factors, that can make the penalties more or less severe.

Defenses to Your Charge

An experienced attorney can raise defense to your domestic violence charge, including, but not limited to:

  • the allegations against you are untrue,
  • the "violence" was accidental and not intentional,
  • defense of another, 
  • insanity, or
  • self-defense.

Consult an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney

If you face domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania, there are defenses you can raise in order to protect yourself against prosecution. Just because you are charged with a crime, does not mean that you are guilty. There are ways to defend your case and protect your constitutional rights.

Criminal defense attorney David J. Cohen is devoted to representing the people of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and surrounding areas. Contact the David J. Cohen Law Firm, LLC today for a consultation.

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