It is a crime to assault anyone in the State of Pennsylvania, regardless of their relationship to you. But when the victim is a spouse, ex-spouse, domestic partner, family member, or the other parent of one's child, it's also considered a crime of domestic violence and will be treated as such under the law.
If your significant other calls the police and accuses you of hitting them, for example, you're likely to be arrested and possibly charged with assault under Pennsylvania law. If convicted, depending on the severity of the assault, you could face penalties ranging from probation all the way up to 20 years in prison. There may be additional complications, as well, such as a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) which would bar you from contact with the alleged victim and possibly affect your custody rights.
Domestic Violence Defense Attorney in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania takes allegations of domestic violence seriously, and the repercussions of an accusation can be far-reaching--even if you are innocent of the charges. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully helped many people defend against unfair charges of domestic violence assault. To schedule a consultation, call 888-535-3686.
What Is Domestic Violence Assault?
Pennsylvania doesn't have specific laws that categorize domestic violence as a distinct crime separate from other crimes. What defines a crime as domestic violence is simply the relationship between the victim and the alleged assailant. If the two are related as spouses, ex-spouses, cohabitants, parent/child, live-in family members, or they share parentage of a child, the state views it as domestic violence. This means if you are accused of striking or injuring your significant other, you will likely face charges of simple or aggravated assault--not a specific domestic violence offense.
In Pennsylvania, there are two types of assault: simple assault and aggravated assault. Simple assault, which is the more common charge, is a misdemeanor offense, while aggravated assault is a felony.
Misdemeanor Simple Assault
Simple assault in Pennsylvania is defined in Title 18, Section 2701 as any of the following:
- Knowingly, intentionally, and recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury
- Negligently causing bodily injury with a deadly weapon (i.e., not necessarily with intention)
- Threatening someone with bodily injury (to the point of creating fear of harm)
Under this law, you could be accused of simple assault even if no injury actually occurred. It's still considered assault if you only tried to harm them (either by striking them or attempting to strike them). It's also considered assault if your actions made the alleged victim believe they were in danger, whether or not you intended to harm them.
In Pennsylvania, most assault cases are charged as 2nd-degree misdemeanor offenses, punishable by fines of up to $5000 and up to 2 years in prison. The exceptions are:
- If the assault was part of a mutual fight (both parties fighting), the charge is typically downgraded to 3rd-degree assault (up to 1 year in prison)
- If the assault was against a minor aged 12 or younger (and the offender is over 18), the charge is upgraded to 1st-degree assault (up to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines
Felony Aggravated Assault
You may be charged with aggravated assault (Section 2702) if the domestic violence victim suffered serious bodily injury or if you used a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime. You can also be charged with aggravated assault if the victim is under age 6, regardless of the extent of their injuries. Aggravated assault is a felony, and if convicted, you could face up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.
Assault as an Act of Domestic Violence
Since domestic violence is not categorized as its own crime in Pennsylvania, any criminal charges you face will be based on the type of offense you're accused of committing against your significant other (in this instance, assault). However, the repercussions of a domestic violence accusation can be much more severe, leading up to criminal charges. Here's what can happen when a spouse or ex-spouse accuses you of domestic violence assault:
- Law enforcement is more likely to arrest you. When a spouse or family member alleges that you have committed an act of domestic violence, the bar for "probable cause" is significantly lowered. In fact, the police who respond to a domestic violence call are required to make an arrest even if they don't observe the violence taking place. (In other instances of alleged assault, the police may or may not make an arrest depending on the evidence, witnesses, and probable cause.)
- A protective order is more likely to be issued--even if you never get charged with a crime. Your accuser may petition the court for a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) which could immediately bar you from contact, force you to move out of your home, and possibly interfere with your custody or visitation rights. If the order is finalized, it may stay in effect for up to 3 years--even if no assault charges are filed against you.
Why You Need the Best Defense Attorney
If you're being accused of assault in a domestic violence context in Pennsylvania, it's important to have a good criminal defense attorney on your side, preferably one with specific experience in domestic violence cases. Accusations of violence involving spouses or family members can be very complicated, and the consequences of a conviction can be devastating. Your lawyer will work to build a strong case in your defense and make sure your rights are protected every step of the way. A good domestic violence defense attorney can work to have assault charges dropped or reduced, negotiate for lighter sentencing, and help you contest an unfair PFA regardless of whether you are criminally charged.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience helping those who are accused of domestic violence assault, and other related crimes. Don't take chances with your family or your freedom; get help from someone who understands the law and how to defend you properly. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.