When you're facing a domestic violence charge in Pennsylvania, it can be stressful. Whether it was a mistake, a misunderstanding, or a false accusation, you're undoubtedly concerned about your future and your family relationships. In Pennsylvania, we take domestic violence seriously, and such an accusation can affect the rest of your life. Moreover, Pennsylvania law tends to treat domestic violence more seriously. This article will discuss some of the more common questions we receive from clients about domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania and the likelihood and mechanics of reducing the charges against you.
Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, the law surrounding domestic violence varies from other states. Our statutes don't specifically define “domestic violence.” Instead, domestic violence includes specific crimes when they occur between two people in a domestic relationship. Domestic relationships in Pennsylvania include:
- Family members like a current or ex-spouse, children, parents, siblings, and other relatives related by blood or marriage
- Household members, although not people who are simply roommates
- Current or ex-dating or intimate partners
- People who have children together
If you're in a domestic relationship with someone and the police arrest you for assaulting them, this can automatically qualify as “domestic violence” in Pennsylvania.
Aside from assault, domestic violence crimes in Pennsylvania include a wide range of charges, including:
- False imprisonment
- Causing or attempting to cause bodily injury intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly
- Sex crimes such as rape, indecent assault, sexual assault, or aggravated indecent assault
- Terroristic threats
- Involuntary manslaughter
- Reckless endangerment
- Putting a family member in “reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury”
- Physical abuse of a minor
- Sexual abuse of a minor
You may look through the list of domestic violence crimes and think, “those are all pretty serious. What if my alleged victim didn't even have any bruises?” In actuality, you could face misdemeanor assault or simple assault even if your spouse, partner, or family member didn't even have any visible injuries. But domestic violence charges with no injuries can be harder for the prosecutor to prove in court.
An experienced criminal defense attorney can often get the prosecutor to reduce your charges by pointing out weaknesses in the Commonwealth's case against you or through negotiation. At your preliminary hearing, the prosecutor may offer a one-time opportunity to drop your charges or reduce them to a summary offense such as harassment or disorderly conduct.
Sometimes the best option is to enter a guilty plea to this lesser charge to obtain a reduced sentence. However, if your attorney successfully negotiates a reduced sentence, the prosecutor or the court may still insist on some of the terms of probation or release that you might normally face if convicted of the original domestic violence charge. While every negotiated agreement is different, often, these agreements will include:
1. Drug or Alcohol Assessment and Treatment
Your agreement could include a drug or alcohol treatment program, including an intake assessment to determine the most appropriate treatment for you.
2. Avoiding Future Criminal Conduct
Most agreements will require that you avoid all future criminal conduct. If you're arrested again, it can violate your agreement, and you could end up back in jail or prosecuted on your original domestic violence charges.
3. Stay Away Order
A Stay Away Order (SAP) is an order issued by a judge in connection with a criminal case. While courts issue SAOs in many serious cases, they are common and often automatically issued in domestic violence cases. If a court orders you to stay away from the alleged victim, the order functions like a civil Protection from Abuse (PFA) order. The SAO may prevent you from contacting or approaching the alleged victim while your case moves through the courts, while you serve any sentence, and during any term of probation or parole. If you violate an SAO, the police can arrest you, you will face additional criminal charges, and you could face prosecution on your original, more serious, domestic violence charges.
4. Domestic Violence Counseling
The court may order you to attend counseling as part of your reduced charges, a plea agreement, or probation on reduced charges. Counseling could take the form of domestic violence intervention classes, anger management classes, or private counseling.
5. Gun Confiscation
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). As a result, if the court convicts you of a domestic violence related crime, you have to give up any firearms you have within 24 hours to your local police or a licensed firearms dealer. If you violate this part of your agreement or parole, you can end up back in jail and face additional criminal charges.
Postponement of Preliminary Hearing
In Pennsylvania courts, if your attorney successfully negotiates a reduced charge and includes treatment and counseling as a condition, the court will often postpone your preliminary hearing for you to complete the conditions of your reduced charges. You must complete them if you've agreed to counseling, treatment, or other conditions. If you fail to remain alcohol or drug-free, complete treatment, or complete counseling or classes, you violate the agreement. If this happens, your charge will proceed to trial in the Court of Common Pleas on your original charges. An experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney can guide you through this process and give you details on complying with any court agreements and a Stay Away Order to ensure you don't violate the terms.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Defense Attorney
When you're facing a domestic violence charge in Pennsylvania, you shouldn't try to navigate the criminal justice system on your own. You need a skilled criminal defense attorney well versed in handling domestic violence charges by your side. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the legal team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping Pennsylvanians accused of domestic violence for years, and they can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm at 888.535.3686 to schedule a consultation today, or contact them online.