If you're facing a domestic violence charge in Pennsylvania, it's important to know the repercussions of a conviction. Pennsylvania courts take violence in families seriously. As a result, these crimes are often treated a bit differently. This article will discuss some of the most common questions we get from our clients about probation for domestic violence convictions in Pennsylvania. Of course, the best way to avoid a conviction is with a skilled criminal defense attorney, experienced in domestic violence cases, protecting your rights, and guiding you through the criminal justice process.
Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law is unusual because it doesn't specifically define “domestic violence.” Rather, domestic violence happens when someone commits a crime in a particular list of crimes against someone they're in a domestic relationship with. For example, if the police in Pennsylvania charge you with assault for pushing your partner, and the two of you are dating, this charge can automatically fall under the category of “domestic violence.”
Domestic violence crimes in Pennsylvania include:
- Causing or attempting to cause bodily injury intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly
- False imprisonment
- Terroristic threats
- Involuntary manslaughter
- Sex crimes such as rape, indecent assault, sexual assault, or aggravated indecent assault
- Placing other family members in “reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury”
- Physical abuse of minors
- Sexual abuse of minors
- Reckless endangerment, among others
Terms of Probation for Domestic Violence Charges
If the court convicts you of a domestic violence charge in Pennsylvania and includes probation as part of your sentence, you may also face additional terms as a condition of your release. If you violate these terms, you could end up back in jail.
Stay Away Order
A Stay Away Order (SAO) is similar to a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order often issued by civil courts when someone seeks protection for domestic violence. However, a court will automatically issue an SAO in many cases involving a criminal domestic violence charge. The alleged victim does not have to apply for an SAO, unlike a PFA. However, someone can have both an SAO and a PFA against you simultaneously.
A Stay Away Order will order you to refrain from contacting or approaching the alleged victim in the case. While a court can issue an SAO in other types of cases to prevent witness intimidation, they are quite common in Pennsylvania domestic violence cases. In some cases, the prosecutor may also see restitution, or financial compensation, for a victim as part of the SAO. If you violate an SAO, you can face arrest, additional criminal charges, revocation of your probation, and more jail time.
The court may require you to go through a batterer evaluation, consisting of one or more assessments measuring risk and danger to the victim. The evaluator may ask you questions about your career, education, childhood, and history of family abuse. The evaluator will also ask you about drug and alcohol use, history of mental illness, medical conditions, controlling or obsessive behaviors, attitudes about equal partnerships, and the like.
In Pennsylvania, if the court places you on probation after a domestic violence conviction, the judge will likely also require you to attend domestic violence counseling, anger management classes, a batterer intervention program, or something similar. These court-mandated classes aim to stop domestic violence by:
- Preventing future domestic violence and promoting victim safety
- Teach you to identify abusive behaviors
- Teach alternatives to violence or abuse
- Explore the impact of abuse on families, children, and spouses
- Assist attendees in examining the beliefs they have about domestic violence
These courses are often in groups and involve in-person attendance. The court may also require you to see a therapist privately.
Under federal and Pennsylvania law, people convicted of certain domestic violence charges may no longer legally purchase or possess firearms. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 921(a)(33), 922(g)(9); 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6105(c)(9). Pennsylvania law specifically states that someone convicted of domestic violence or certain other crimes “shall not possess, use, control, sell, transfer or manufacture or obtain a license to possess, use, control, sell, transfer or manufacture a firearm in this Commonwealth.” Id. at § 6105(1)(c). Under the statute, crimes prohibiting gun ownership include the crimes listed earlier in this article, as well as murder, robbery, auto theft, arson, and many serious, violent crimes, including those involving weapons.
If the court convicts you of a domestic violence-related crime, you must relinquish any firearms under your control within 24 hours. You may release them to local law enforcement or a licensed dealer. Your local police department will receive a copy of this order from the court, and you must let the court know your plans for the firearms you possess.
If you fail to give up your firearms within 24 hours as the court orders, the police will notify the court, and you could end up back in jail. Under Pennsylvania law, if you intentionally or knowingly fail to give up your weapons, you could face additional second-degree misdemeanor charges. See Pa.C.S.A. § 6105.2(h). The law also states that you must relinquish any firearms licenses that you hold.
It's essential to remember that when you're on probation for a domestic violence crime in Pennsylvania, you can go back to jail if you violate the terms of your release. Probation is an alternative to incarceration, and if you violate parole, you can go back to jail to complete your sentence.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
If you're facing a domestic violence charge in Pennsylvania, you need help from a skilled criminal defense attorney right away. Don't let the prosecutor and the police trample your rights. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the experienced lawyers at the Lento Law Firm have been protecting the rights of Pennsylvanians accused of domestic violence for years. Find out how they can help you. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation today, or contact them online.