In the State of Pennsylvania, acts of domestic violence are not limited to crimes of assault or actual physical contact. In fact, you can be arrested for domestic violence crimes and have a protective order placed against you, even for verbal forms of abuse, without ever making physical contact with your significant other. For example, if you threaten your spouse or partner with bodily harm or death in a way that the person truly believes they are in danger, you could be charged with the crime of terroristic threats under Section 2706 of Pennsylvania's criminal code.
It is a crime in PA to commit terroristic threats against anyone, regardless of your relationship to them. But when these threats are leveled against a spouse, ex-spouse, co-habitant, live-in relative, etc., it is treated as domestic violence, and the alleged victim is eligible for additional protections under the law. In fact, just the fact that you are accused of threatening your partner (whether or not you are guilty) could result in a Protection from Abuse (PFA) Order against you, which could force you from your home, ban you from contact with the alleged victim, and even impact your child custody and visitation rights. If you're convicted of this crime, you could face up to 5 years in jail.
Call a Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Defense Attorney
Pennsylvania law takes allegations of domestic violence seriously, and despite the promise of "innocent until proven guilty," the judge is likely to provide protections to your accuser even if you're never actually charged with a crime. Attorney Joseph D. Lento understands the nuances and complexities of domestic violence allegations in Pennsylvania, and he will work to make sure your rights are protected. To schedule a consultation, call 888-535-3686.
What Constitutes Terroristic Threats in Pennsylvania?
Under Section 2706, it is a crime to "communicate, either directly or indirectly, a threat to commit any crime of violence with intent to terrorize another." The key element here is the word "terrorize," which means to cause feelings of intense fear or panic. In other words, it's not the actual words spoken that constitute committing terroristic threats; it's whether or not the words are intended to evoke terror. Terroristic threats don't need to be verbal communications, either; they can be in letter form or even by action (for example, pointing a gun at someone's head).
Section 2706 also defines terroristic threats in other contexts besides domestic violence, making it a crime to say or do something threatening that causes an evacuation of a public space or causes "serious public inconvenience" (phoning in a bomb threat, for example). What makes it a domestic violence crime is your relationship to the alleged victim(s)--that is, when you threaten a spouse, ex-spouse, someone you're dating or have dated, your child(ren), a domestic partner, a housemate, etc.
Examples of Domestic Violence Terroristic Threats
- Example 1: David gets into a serious argument with his live-in girlfriend, Janet. No physical contact occurs between them, and Janet packs up and moves out of the apartment. A few days later, David starts leaving threatening voicemails on Janet's cellphone, saying he is going to kill her and describing how he intends to do it. David could face charges of terroristic threats because his communications were intended to scare Janet, whether or not he actually planned to kill her.
- Example 2: During an altercation with his ex-wife Lisa over custody matters, John grabs Lisa's hands, locks them behind her back, and threatens to break her arms if she doesn't do what he says. John may be charged with terroristic threats (and likely assault since physical force was used).
- Example 3: In a heated argument with her husband over an alleged affair, Doris grabs a gun from her purse and puts it to her husband's head, making him fear for his life. Doris could be charged with terroristic threats as an act of domestic violence.
Penalties for Making Terroristic Threats
Terroristic threats are punished severely in Pennsylvania. If you are accused of this crime, you could be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor, resulting in fines of up to $10,000 and up to 5 years in jail if convicted. If your threats result in a public evacuation or disruption of normal service for public transportation, the charge may be escalated to a third-degree felony punished by a minimum of 3.5 years up to 7 years in prison.
Terroristic Threats in the Context of Domestic Violence
Pennsylvania law doesn't list domestic violence as a specific crime, so if your significant other accuses you of making threats, you'll likely be charged with the general crime of terroristic threats. However, there are potential additional complications you may face if your threats are an act of domestic violence, including the following:
- You're more likely to be arrested, even if no charges are ultimately filed. When someone calls the police alleging domestic violence in PA, law enforcement is required to make an arrest for the protection of the victim when they respond to the call, regardless of any other probable cause. Thus, all it may take to get you arrested is for your spouse/partner to call the police and say that you are threatening them.
- A Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is more likely. A domestic violence victim has the right to petition the court for a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA). If your partner convinces the court your threats are potentially legitimate, the judge may grant this PFA regardless of any criminal charges filed. It could stay in effect for up to three years, barring you from contact with the person and possibly affecting your custody rights.
Hire a Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Today
If you are accused of making terroristic threats in the context of domestic violence, it's imperative that you contact a qualified PA criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has plenty of experience with cases like yours, and he can work with you to challenge unfair PFAs, negotiate for dismissal of any charges and/or reduced penalties, and protect your rights throughout the process. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.