Most people think of domestic violence as acts of violence between married couples, domestic partners, or people in a dating relationship. However, in the State of Pennsylvania, an act of violence against any member of one's family is also categorized as domestic violence. This means that if you are violent towards your parents, grandparents, siblings, children, or any other family member, you can be charged with a crime under Pennsylvania's domestic violence laws. It also means the consequences for committing domestic violence against a family member are the same as those for domestic violence against an intimate partner.
Domestic Violence Defense Attorney in PA
Pennsylvania takes acts of domestic violence seriously. While PA law doesn't differentiate legally between domestic violence and other types of crimes, if you're charged with committing an act of abuse against a spouse, intimate partner, or family member, you could be facing significant consequences in addition to whatever specific crime you're charged with. That's why it's important to have an experienced PA domestic violence defense attorney on your side. Attorney Joseph D. Lento helps Pennsylvania defendants who are facing domestic violence charges. To schedule a consultation, call the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686.
Who Is Considered a Family Member in PA?
In Pennsylvania, domestic violence is defined by your relationship with the alleged victim, not the specific crime you commit against them. Under PA law, domestic violence extends beyond marital, dating, and cohabitation relationships to include "family and household members." Title 23 Section 6102 includes any of the following relationships within the category of "family and household members":
- Spouses or former spouses (this includes current and former same-sex spouses)
- Current or former "persons living as spouses" (this includes domestic partners and live-in relationships)
- Parents and children
- Persons related by sanguinity (meaning related by blood/ancestry)
- Persons related by affinity (i.e., "in-laws")
- Current or former sexual partners
- Persons who share biological parenthood of a child
As you can see, the definition of "family member" in Pennsylvania is fairly broad. If you've been accused of domestic violence against any of the above-listed persons, you need to speak with a domestic violence defense attorney in PA as soon as possible.
Types of Domestic Violence Crimes Against Family Members
Pennsylvania acknowledges a wide range of criminal offenses that are considered acts of domestic violence when they are committed against a family member. The list includes, but is not limited to:
- Sexual assault
- Stalking and cyberstalking
- Terroristic threats
- Reckless endangerment
- Unlawful restraint/false imprisonment
- Disorderly conduct
- Indecent assault
- Criminal trespass
- Unlawful dissemination of intimate images (i.e., "revenge porn")
- Identity theft
Consequences of Domestic Violence Against Family Members
If you are convicted of domestic violence against a family member, you will likely face a number of serious consequences. These may include:
- Jail/prison time (between 1-5 years for misdemeanors, up to 20 years for felonies)
- Fines (could be anywhere between $2500 to $25,000, depending on the severity of the offense)
- Mandatory participation in a batterer's treatment program
- Loss of your right to possess firearms (both state and federal law forbid those convicted of domestic violence crimes from owning or possessing a gun)
- Loss of child custody/visitation rights (domestic violence convictions may be used against you in custody disputes)
Protection From Abuse Orders (PFA) for Family Members
Another consequence that may affect you for years in cases of alleged domestic violence is that the family member accusing you of violence may request that a Protection from Abuse (PFA) be issued against you. A PFA is a civil order that requires you to stay away from your accuser and have no contact with them. A PFA can last for up to 3 years and may be extended if necessary. Perhaps most importantly, the PFA can be issued even if you're never ultimately charged with, or convicted of, a crime. All that needs to happen is for a judge to be convinced that you are a potential threat to the family member asking for protection.
If you violate a PFA, you may be charged with a separate crime of criminal contempt, which is a criminal offense punishable by up to 6 months in jail.
Defenses Against Domestic Violence Charges in PA
There are a number of defenses your attorney can use to fight domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania. Some of the most common include:
- False accusation. It's not uncommon for people to falsely accuse others of domestic violence in order to gain some sort of advantage (for example, in child custody/visitation cases or immigration disputes).
- Insufficient evidence. In order for you to be convicted of domestic violence, the prosecution must have enough evidence to prove your guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt." If they don't have this level of proof, you should not be found guilty. (The alleged victim's testimony is evidence, but it may not be enough on its own to procure a conviction.)
- Self-defense. If you can show that you were acting in self-defense or in defense of another when the alleged domestic violence occurred, you may be able to have the charges against you dismissed. (For example, the family member accusing you might actually have been the first person to attack.)
Call an Experienced PA Domestic Violence Attorney Today
If you've been charged with a domestic violence offense against a family member in Pennsylvania, you should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. The sooner you can begin working on your defense, the better your chances of getting ahead of complications like PFAs, as well as defending against criminal charges. Attorney Joseph D. Lento will work to ensure your rights are protected. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.