Pennsylvania takes domestic violence very seriously. As a result, it's not unusual to be arrested on domestic violence allegations, or to have a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order filed against you, even when there's little evidence to support the accuser's claims.
Convicting someone of domestic violence in a criminal court, though, is less straightforward. The reason? In criminal court, the prosecution must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that there's no other conclusion the court can reach, based on the evidence available, other than the defendant committed the crime.
Evidence, however, is not easy to gather in domestic violence cases. Here's a look at what the accused must prove to make a domestic violence claim, and some common reasons why claims fail.
Proving a Domestic Violence Case
There's no single definition of domestic violence in Pennsylvania. Instead, any number of offenses may be considered domestic violence if the accused has a certain relationship with the victim, such as:
- intimate partners
- individuals with a child in common
The type of offenses that may be considered domestic violence include assault, rape, harassment, stalking, trespass, and child abuse. To prove domestic violence, the prosecutor must prove:
- the defendant has a certain relationship with the accused; and
- the specific offense took place beyond a reasonable doubt.
For example, if a wife accuses her husband of assault, the prosecution must prove the assault charge. This is not easy because there are many defenses available depending on the charge, e.g., lack of intent, accident, self-defense, and so on.
Reasons Why Domestic Violence Charges May Be Dismissed
There are various defenses available to domestic violence charges – an experienced attorney can explain which defenses may be an option in your case. However, here are three common reasons why domestic violence charges are difficult to prove in criminal court.
- Insufficient Evidence The prosecution must prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. A lack of medical evidence or witness statements can make it difficult for prosecutors to succeed.
- Lack of Medical Evidence If there are no medical records or photographs to corroborate the allegations of bodily injury, then the defense can argue that there's no case to answer or there's insufficient evidence to support the charges.
- No Witnesses Often there are no witnesses to domestic violence incidents – it's a matter of the victim's word against the defendant. However, if there's little other supporting evidence to show domestic violence took place, the lack of witnesses or corroborating police reports could prove fatal to the prosecution's case. An experienced criminal defense attorney will identify any weaknesses in the victim's claims, such as lack of evidence, and use them to challenge the prosecution's case.
- The victim changes their statement – especially if they change it multiple times.
- The injuries sustained are inconsistent with the victim's recollection of events.
- The victim has a history of making false or exaggerated claims against the accused. If the victim may have a motive for making false claims e.g., there's a custody battle, the defense will point this out.
Consequences of a Domestic Violence Allegation
Domestic violence is one of those crimes where defendants often face serious repercussions just for being accused of the offense even if they're completely innocent. These repercussions may be criminal or civil in nature, depending on whether there's a conviction.
If you're found guilty of domestic violence, the penalties will depend on various factors including:
- the specific allegation you're charged with, e.g., assault, harassment, or sexual assault;
- how severe the allegations are; and
- whether you have a criminal record.
Generally, the penalties include:
- community service
- jail time
- monetary fines
A domestic violence conviction goes on your criminal record, which could affect your ability to find a home, a job, or a place in an academic program.
Even if you don't face criminal charges, domestic abuse allegations have significant consequences.
- If you're served with a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, you could lose access to your children or even your own home.
- The burden of proof is lower in civil court. If a family court judge finds that domestic violence took place, you could lose your visitation or custody rights.
There is also your private life to think about: relationships may be damaged if friends, colleagues, and family believe the accusations against you, even if they turn out to be false.
There's a huge amount at stake when you're facing domestic violence allegations, so it's crucial you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows how to protect your interests. Joseph Lento has successfully helped many clients deal with domestic violence accusations – contact him today to schedule your own consultation.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help
Domestic violence is a serious crime, and it's crucial there are measures in place to protect victims from further harm. That said, even if there's a PFA in place, domestic violence charges are not always easy to prove, and an experienced attorney can help you build a strong defense and challenge these allegations.
A domestic violence conviction can seriously affect your professional and private life. Don't try to face these accusations alone – contact the Lento Law Firm now for effective representation from an experienced criminal defense attorney. Call on 888.535.3686 or contact us online.