Domestic Violence Charges and 911 Calls

Domestic violence is a serious matter. In the past decade, more than 1,600 victims of domestic violence have died in Pennsylvania. The problem is wide-spread, and one in three women and one in four men will experience some form of physical violence from an intimate partner in their lives. But what happens when a family member accuses you of domestic abuse? What happens if your partner calls 911 claiming you hurt them?

What is Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania?

In the Keystone State, our criminal statutes don't consider domestic violence a separate charge from a crime like assault, stalking, or kidnapping. Instead, if a family member accuses you of assault, the police will charge you with assault. But they will handle the case differently if a family or household member is the victim.

Domestic abuse exists if a current or former family or household member, intimate partner, or co-parent is involved, and includes the following acts:

1. Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, or incest with or without a deadly weapon.

2. Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.

3. The infliction of false imprisonment under the Pennsylvania code.

4. Physically or sexually abusing minor children.

5. Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, without proper authority, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.

See 23 Pa.C.S. §6102.

Common Domestic Violence Charges

Some charges common to incidents of domestic violence include:

Charge

Code Section

Type of Offense

Penalty

Harassment

18 Pa.C.S. §2709

Summary offense

Up to 90 days in jail and up to a $500 fine

Stalking

18 Pa.C.S. §2709.1

First-degree misdemeanor

Up to 2.5 to 5 years in jail and up to $10,000 fine

Stalking

 

Third-degree felony

Up to 3.5 to 7 years in jail and up to $15,000 fine

False Imprisonment

18 Pa.C.S. §2903

Second-degree misdemeanor

1 to 2 years of jail and up to $5,000 fine

Child Abuse

23 Pa.C.S. §6903(b)

First-degree misdemeanor

Up to 2.5 to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 fine

Child Abuse

 

Third-degree felony

Up to 3.5 to 7 years of jail and up to $15,000 fine

Sexual Assault

18 Pa.C.S. §3122.1

Second-degree felony

5 to 10 years in prison and $25,000 fine

911 Calls for Domestic Violence

In many cases, 911 calls can be a red flag to notify law enforcement of domestic violence situations. Dispatchers and law enforcement officials treat domestic violence 911 calls seriously, in part because of court decisions regarding these calls. For example, in the mid-90s, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit held a municipality liable for failing to send officers after a 911 call from a woman who was a victim of domestic violence.

In the Navarro case, Maria Navarro was celebrating her birthday when her brother-in-law called to tell her that her estranged husband was on the way to kill her and described the weapon he was bringing. Ms. Navarro already had a protective order against her ex. When Ms. Navarro called 911, describing the threat and the weapon, the dispatcher refused to send police telling her that she should call back if he showed up. A few minutes later, her husband arrived and shot and killed Ms. Navarro and four other people. The Navarro family sued the town.

As a result of the Navarro case and other similar cases across the country, Pennsylvania dispatchers must take domestic violence 911 calls seriously. It isn't unheard of for someone involved in a bitter separation or custody dispute to fabricate or exaggerate domestic violence claims. But if your partner uses an unfounded 911 call against you as a weapon, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.

How Are 911 Transcripts Used?

Prosecutors use 911 call transcripts in several ways. At the onset of a case, the prosecutor may use the call to determine the aggressor in a family dispute. The prosecutor may use the call to motivate the victim to accept state services, protect children in the home, and to cooperate with state agencies. The 911 call may also help prosecutors to secure plea deals from the accused, and a court may admit the call as evidence at trial. The alleged victim in a domestic violence case may also use the 911 call to obtain a protective order, to get compensation for injuries, and as evidence or leverage in child custody, child support, spousal support, or divorce proceedings.

Prosecutors can use 911 call transcripts against you in court, including statements of your accuser and any witnesses at the scene. Even if a witness doesn't testify at trial, prosecutors can play the 911 call recording in court. The sixth amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects every criminal defendant's right to confront their accuser or witnesses against them in court. The Confrontation Clause thus protects the right of an accused to cross-examine a witness providing testimony at trial.

However, in 2006, in the case of Davis v. Washington, the Supreme Court of the United States determined that providing necessary information to a 911 operator doesn't qualify as "testimony" against an alleged assailant. As a result, some information in 911 calls doesn't invoke the Confrontation Clause. A trial court can, therefore, admit some 911 calls as evidence against the accused even if the prosecution doesn't present the caller as a witness at trial. See Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006).

Hiring the Right Attorney

As you can see, domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania are serious. If you are facing domestic abuse-related charges or a Protection from Abuse Order, you need a skilled attorney on your case as soon as possible. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm has many years of experience helping Pennsylvania defendants charged with domestic violence and other criminal matters. Give us a call at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.

Contact Us Today!

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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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