Domestic Violence and Internet Crimes

If you're arrested for an internet crime, and the accuser has a certain type of relationship with you, then you could face domestic violence charges. Domestic violence charges carry serious consequences, and so it's crucial you understand how domestic abuse may take place online and how you might avoid such allegations.

In Pennsylvania, the courts take cybercrime just as seriously as physical crimes, so your first step should be hiring an experienced defense attorney. In the meantime, though, here is a breakdown of how Pennsylvania treats domestic violence crimes committed online.

Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania

Under Pennsylvania law, there's no single definition of what constitutes “domestic violence”. However, Section 6102 of the PA Criminal Code Title 23 defines domestic abuse as certain acts committed by:

  • household members e.g., spouses, parents, family members (direct descendants)
  • intimate or sexual partners
  • people who have a biological child in common

Domestic violence can include physically harming the victim, but it's also considered domestic violence if someone knowingly:

  • places a person in reasonable fear of imminent and serious bodily harm; or
  • behaves in a certain way that makes someone reasonably fearful of bodily harm.

This means that many offenses – such as harassment and stalking – could be considered domestic violence if they take place online between individuals in a qualifying relationship.

Examples of Internet Crimes

There are various behaviors that may constitute an internet crime or an act of domestic violence. However, here are three internet crimes commonly tied to domestic violence allegations.

  1. Cyberstalking In Pennsylvania, stalking means repeatedly behaving in a certain way towards a person with the intent to cause them distress or fear of harm. This can be physical stalking such as following the victim, or it can be cyberstalking e.g. tracking someone's movements to cause them alarm. Like all internet crimes, Pennsylvania takes cyberstalking seriously. It's usually a first-degree misdemeanor; however, it can be a third-degree felony if:
  • the defendant violates a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order; or
  • they've already been convicted of a violent crime against a household member.
  • Third-degree felonies can result in jail time of up to seven years, or fines of up to $15,000.
  • Online Harassment Harassment is broadly defined in Pennsylvania and includes:
    • obscene or lewd communications
    • disruptive communications; for example, sending messages at unsociable hours to annoy the victim
    • repeated anonymous communications What counts as “communications”, though? In an online context, “communications” mean any type of virtual message including emails, social media communications, and images.
    • An example of online harassment in a domestic context would be sending an ex-partner repeated explicit images at all hours of the night. Harassment, including in a domestic context, is normally a third-degree misdemeanor or summary offense. It could be a second-degree misdemeanor if you're convicted for a second time.
  • Terroristic Threats Under Pennsylvania law, terroristic threats are any actions meant to provoke real fear or panic in the victim. It's an internet crime if the messages are sent online, and it's a domestic crime if there's a qualifying relationship. For example, if a husband and wife get into a fight, and the husband sends the wife threatening emails describing how he could kill her (even if there's no intent to commit murder), this could constitute domestic violence. Terroristic threats are usually first-degree misdemeanors with penalties including jail time of up to five years and fines of up to $10,000.
  • Consequences of a Domestic Violence Charge for Internet Crimes

    A domestic violence conviction can have significant criminal, professional, and personal repercussions for any individual.

    Criminal

    The penalties for domestic violence convictions range from fines to jail time, depending on the nature of the offense and your existing criminal record. Given how steep the consequences can be, you should hire a criminal defense attorney immediately if you're facing domestic abuse charges for online behavior.

    Professional

    If you're convicted of domestic violence, the offense goes on your criminal record. This may prohibit you from entering certain professions, completing your education, or pursuing your career goals.

    Personal

    You may find it harder to maintain good relationships with friends and family following domestic abuse allegations – even if the claims are exaggerated or wrong.

    Domestic Violence and Protection from Abuse Orders (PFAs)

    Even if you're not found guilty of domestic violence in the criminal courts, you could still face civil consequences if you're served with a PFA.

    • To protect victims, individuals are often served with PFAs based on very little (or exaggerated) evidence.
    • Even a temporary PFA can restrict your right to live in the family home or see your children.
    • Violating a PFA is a criminal offense and can lead to criminal charges (for example, cyberstalking charges as outlined above).
    • If the courts issue a permanent PFA against you, then you could lose various privileges such as custody rights in the long term.

    While every case is unique, Joseph Lento can defend you by, for example, challenging the accuser's case and attempting to show why a PFA is unmerited.

    Get Help from an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney at the Lento Law Firm

    If you're facing domestic violence charges based on an alleged internet crime, you should retain a criminal defense attorney immediately. Joseph Lento has helped many individuals successfully challenge domestic violence and internet crime allegations, and he's ready to help you build the strongest possible defense.

    At the Lento Law Firm, we will evaluate your situation and determine which defenses may be open to you based on the facts. We're committed to protecting your rights and ensuring you get the fair hearing you deserve. Retain Joseph Lento for effective legal representation – call now on 888.535.3686 or complete the online form.

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    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.

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