Under Pennsylvania law, police officers can seize weapons from a defendant if there's cause to believe they were used in a domestic violence incident. But what constitutes domestic violence, and what does it mean if your weapons are seized? While an experienced criminal defense attorney can give you accurate advice based on your unique situation, here's an overview of what happens at the scene and what a weapons seizure means for your gun ownership rights.
Definition of Domestic Violence in PA
Confusingly, Pennsylvania doesn't define domestic violence in any clear way. However, the broad definition is when the defendant has a domestic relationship with the accuser e.g., spouse, parent, partner, or ex-partner with a child in common, and they:
- knowingly act in such a way that the victim reasonably fears for their physical safety;
- intentionally or recklessly harm the victim with or without a deadly weapon;
- falsely imprison the victim; or
- sexually abuses minor children.
Offenses which may be considered domestic violence include assault, sexual assault, false imprisonment, stalking, harassment, and homicide.
The Procedure at the Scene
When police arrive at the scene of an alleged domestic violence incident, the officers must determine if there's “probable cause” to make an arrest. There's no need for officers to see the incident take place – police can make an arrest if the accuser is injured, or they find other supporting evidence.
If police officers determine an incident took place, they can arrest you without a warrant – and they can seize any weapons at the scene. It's important you cooperate with law enforcement at this stage, even if the accusations are false or exaggerated. Otherwise, you risk facing further criminal charges with more severe consequences.
If you're arrested for domestic violence or the police seize your weapons, contact Joseph Lento, a PA domestic violence defense attorney, immediately for representation.
Domestic Violence and Possession of Firearms
Pennsylvania takes domestic violence allegations extremely seriously, and the courts will always prioritize a victim's safety. If you're convicted of a domestic violence offense in PA, whether it's a felony or misdemeanor charge, you could lose your right to own or use a gun.
Some acts of domestic violence, such as stalking and aggravated assault, are felonies. If you're convicted of a felony in PA, you generally lose your gun rights.
Misdemeanor Crimes of Domestic Violence
If you're convicted of a misdemeanor, you don't automatically lose your gun rights unless it's a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” (MCDV). Put simply, MCDVs are threats or actions involving the use of physical force, or the threatened use of deadly weapons, where the defendant is in a domestic relationship with the victim such as a spouse, parent, or partner.
For example, if you're a husband convicted of simple assault against your wife, this qualifies as a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, and you could lose your gun rights. If the offense was committed against someone who you do not have a domestic relationship with, it wouldn't be a MCDV – although it would still be a misdemeanor crime.
If you're convicted of a domestic violence offense, you normally have 24 hours to hand over any firearms in your possession. You can hand the weapons to a licensed gun dealer, law enforcement, or the district attorney – not family or friends.
Weapons Seizures and Protection from Abuse Orders
Even if you're not convicted of a felony or misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, you could lose access to guns if you're subject to a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order.
- If you're issued with a temporary PFA, the court can order you to hand over any firearms in your possession.
- If a final PFA is issued and you're required to hand over your firearms, you have 24 hours to relinquish the weapons to the police, district attorney, or licensed gun dealerships.
Failure to Comply
There are potentially serious consequences if you fail to hand over weapons when required.
- It's a second-degree misdemeanor if you don't relinquish your firearms within the 24-hour deadline.
- You could also face additional charges if you resist arrest or attempt to stop police officers from seizing weapons at the alleged scene of a domestic violence incident.
- Failing to comply with weapons seizure orders could mean you lose your gun ownership rights for much longer – or even permanently, depending on the case facts.
Long Term Consequences of a Domestic Violence Conviction
If you're accused of domestic violence, you face significant long-term consequences – even if you're never convicted. For one thing, it might be difficult to maintain your relationships with family and friends, and if there's a PFA order in place, you could lose access to your children or even your own home.
What's more, as mentioned previously, you could permanently lose your right to own or use firearms if you're convicted of a domestic violence offense. If you're facing domestic violence charges, it's crucial you hire a criminal defense attorney immediately to help protect your rights.
Hire a PA Domestic Violence Defense Attorney
A domestic violence allegation can significantly affect your life – even if the accusations turn out to be false. If you're facing a domestic violence charge or weapons offense, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Joseph Lento knows how to build an aggressive defense and protect his clients' rights – and he wants to help you today. To retain the services of Joseph Lento, or to learn more about how he can help defend your case, tell him about your situation online or call him today on 888.535.3686.