Police in Philadelphia are investigating a situation where a 60-year-old man was apparently killed by his roommate in South Philadelphia. Unlike in many other states, both the relationship between the two roommates and the severity of the offense take the incident beyond domestic violence law.
Police Investigating Death of Philadelphia Man Apparently Killed by Roommate
The initial news reports of the incident say that police responded to an apartment in South Philadelphia during the overnight hours of June 13-14. The two inhabitants of the apartment – a 60-year-old and a 26-year-old – had been in an argument.
While details are still sketchy, it appears that the argument escalated into a fight that ended with the death of the 60-year-old roommate.
It is unclear whether the death was the result of something that the other roommate did, or whether it was an underlying medical condition – an upcoming autopsy would reveal the cause of death.
Domestic Violence Law and Roommates
Most people think of domestic violence as confined to family disputes, or at the very most to members of the extended family.
In most states in the U.S., this is not true. Because it is a crime and because each state has its own criminal code, what constitutes domestic violence in one state does not necessarily mean that it would be domestic violence in another.
A key component to domestic violence law is what types of relationships it covers. While nearly all states apply their domestic violence laws to incidents between “family or household members,” the definition of that term can vary widely.
In many other states, a “family or household member” includes cohabitants and even former cohabitants.
However, in Pennsylvania, a “family or household member” under 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6102 only includes:
- Spouses or former spouses,
- People who have lived, or who used to live, as spouses,
- Parents and their children,
- People related by blood or who share a biological parenthood,
- In-laws, and
- Current or former sexual or intimate partners.
As a result, while altercations between current roommates would be considered domestic violence situations in other states, they would not fall under Pennsylvania's domestic violence law.
For the person being accused, this means that the penalties and consequences of a conviction are lower. For the alleged victim, it means that a protection from abuse order (PFA) is probably not possible.
Fatalities and Domestic Violence Law
One thing that nearly all domestic violence laws have in common, though, is that they do not apply to situations where one of the parties has died. While stalking, assault, harassment, and rape could all be domestic violence situations, manslaughter or murder cannot.
The reason for this is straightforward: most domestic violence law is focused on separating heated couples who have to deal with each other. A fatality has eliminated this ongoing dilemma.
Joseph D. Lento: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia who represents people who have been accused of a crime of domestic violence in the area. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353 for the legal representation you need.