When a person is involved in a domestic violence situation, the matter itself often arises from a snap judgement from a police officer. A person can face domestic violence charges just on conclusions drawn by someone arriving at the situation without any knowledge of what had transpired beforehand. One of the most common domestic violence charges that an officer will present to a defendant is a charge for domestic assault.
Domestic Assault Charges in Pennsylvania
When a person faces "domestic assault" charges, it means they have been charged with assault, but the incident falls under the blanket of an act of domestic violence. Domestic violence is not its own crime, but rather crimes that affect a certain protected classification of victims. These victims are often known as "household members," though they are not always within the same household. Individuals such as current or former spouses, current or former romantic partners, a person a defendant shares a child with, or family members will qualify as household members under Pennsylvania law. When a defendant commits a crime against one of these individuals, it will likely be prosecuted as a crime of domestic violence, which will mean steeper sentencing for defendants.
Domestic Assault vs Simple Assault
When a defendant is accused of assault, Pennsylvania's simple assault laws become domestic assault. Assault charges are defined in 18 Pa C.S.A. § 2701. A person commits simple assault when they:
- attempt to cause harm, or intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause bodily injury to another person
- negligently cause bodily injury to another person with a deadly weapon
- attempt to put another person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury through physical menace
Domestic assault is simple assault with a domestic violence incident involved. When an officer of the law is called to a domestic violence situation, they have greater authority to make an arrest. A person may be arrested for domestic assault under the following circumstances:
- There is an injury to a person at the scene
- A PFA order has been violated
- The officer has reasonable suspicion that a domestic violence incident has taken place.
What Are The Penalties For Domestic Assault?
Simple assault is normally a second-degree misdemeanor offense. It is a first-degree misdemeanor if it is committed against a person under the age of 12 by an adult over the age of 18. It is a third-degree misdemeanor if a fight or scuffle is entered into by both parties.
First degree misdemeanors are punishable by jail time up to 5 years, and fines up to $10,000. Second-degree misdemeanors can have punishments of 2 years of jail time and up to $5,000 in fines. Third-degree misdemeanors may be punished by a full year of jail time, and fines up to $2,000.
When domestic violence is involved, penalties may increase. In addition to this, following an arrest, an officer will confiscate any weapons that the alleged offender has on the premises, including any firearm. Domestic violence accusations also carry over into other areas of the law, such as family law. A person's custody arrangements and divorce arrangements.
What Are Some Examples of Domestic Assault?
There are a number of examples of situations that may constitute domestic assault. Some examples of this can include:
- Creating a physically threatening presence: Under the law for simple assault, physically menacing acts, such as lunging at a person, destroying objects, or making physically threatening actions can sometimes lead to a domestic assault charge.
- Attacking a current or former spouse, romantic partner, or a person you share a child with: Actual physical violence against a household member will lead to a domestic assault charge.
- Using a deadly weapon against a household member: Use of a weapon can lead to a domestic assault charge as well, and the circumstances may constitute aggravated domestic assault.
How Can I Defend Against Domestic Assault Charges?
Defending against domestic assault charges can be difficult. These charges frequently arise out of situations where a police officer has arrived on the scene, surveyed the situation and made a quick judgement based on what he initially perceives. The key to defending these charges is to make the defendant's side of the events known in court. Many times, the case comes down to what is contained in the police report versus the defendant's word.
Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
When a person faces domestic assault charges, their entire lives may be affected by the consequences they face. Domestic assault charges will carry precedence over any standing custody or divorce arrangements, and a person may lose their rights to own firearms and other weapons as well. Needless to say, domestic assault charges create a complex situation where much is on the line for a defendant. Fortunately, an experienced defense attorney can help. Joseph D. Lento is an experienced criminal defense attorney, with additional experience in negotiating defenses to PFA orders, as well as custody arrangements.
If you or a loved one has been charged with domestic assault, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today.