Blog

How Could a Pennsylvania Court Ever Include Prostitutes Under Domestic Violence Laws? An Overview of the Common Law Process

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Nov 13, 2019 | 0 Comments

In a recent blog post, we detailed a strange possibility in Pennsylvania's domestic violence laws: Under the terms of the statute, “current or former sexual or intimate partners” are included in the “family or household members” that trigger the protections afforded by domestic violence law, opening the possibility for prostitutes to be included.

The outcome may seem strange, but the process is something that happens every day in criminal law. It's worth detailing just how this process works because it describes what law is, how it develops, and how a criminal defense lawyer can protect people who have been accused of a crime.

The Legislature is the Origin of All Criminal Laws

The first step in this process is the Pennsylvania state legislature, also known as the Pennsylvania General Assembly. There, the 50 state senators and 203 representatives agree on what should be considered criminal conduct. They write bills that describe what is criminal and how it should be punished and then if the bill gets approved by the Assembly, forward it to the governor for approval to be signed into law.

Applying the Language of the Statute to Particular Cases

The text of what those bills say is absolutely critical because it will be what courts have to use to decide whether the law has been broken or not.

In some cases, judges face an easy decision. Imagine, for example, a domestic violence case where a judge has to decide whether the alleged victim is a member of the defendant's “family or household.” In this case, the alleged victim is the wife of the defendant. The statute explicitly says that spouses are “family or household members.” Applying the text of the statute to the case resolves it, with little room for debate.

However, there are also times where a case presents itself that seems to fall in between a statute's words and what they could mean. Like in 2007, when a Pennsylvania court had to decide whether a sexual assault victim and her convicted assailant were “current or former sexual or intimate partners” – a designation that would make them “family or household members” under Pennsylvania's domestic violence laws. The court decided in Scott v. Shay that no, this was not enough of a connection because the sexual relations they'd had was not consensual.

Court Cases Color Later Decisions

Subsequent cases force courts to continue to grapple with the text of the criminal statute, making courts interpret it again and again. Those interpretations are then used to dictate or influence later cases – a practice that lawyers try to use for the benefit of their clients.

For example, should there ever come a case where a prostitute wants to get a protection from abuse (PFA) order against a john, their attorney will point to Scott v. Shay as a reason why courts should grant the order. PFAs can only be issued when the plaintiff and defendant in it are “family or household members” under Pennsylvania's domestic violence laws, and Scott v. Shay stands for the idea that this requirement is satisfied if prior sexual relations had been consensual.

This process of interpreting statutes is known as common law. It slowly hones our understanding of what the text of a particular criminal law actually means, when it faces situations in the real world.

Criminal Defense in Philadelphia: Joseph D. Lento

Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience fighting for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, as well as New Jersey. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being.

Comments

There are no comments for this post. Be the first and Add your Comment below.

Leave a Comment

Contact Us Today!

footer-2.jpg

Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations – the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Berks, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Northampton County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.

Menu