Being accused of or charged with domestic violence in Pennsylvania creates a unique set of issues for the accused as opposed to other types of crimes. While Pennsylvania law doesn't identify domestic violence as a specific crime compared to other crimes against individuals (the only thing that defines it as domestic violence is your relationship to the victim), it is one of the few crimes in PA that can carry severe repercussions just for having been accused of it--whether or not you are convicted, or whether or not you are even charged.
In short, being convicted of domestic violence is bad enough, but even an allegation of domestic violence could ultimately affect your daily routine, your custody rights, and even your career options. This is why it's of the utmost importance to hire an experienced PA domestic violence defense attorney as soon as accusations arise. Joseph D. Lento has helped many clients defend themselves not only against false accusations of domestic violence but also against the wide range of possible consequences that the accusations might trigger. To schedule a consultation, call 888-535-3686.
Let's talk more in-depth about the various possible consequences when someone faces domestic violence allegations and charges.
Of course, the biggest danger with domestic violence accusations is the possibility that you will be charged with a crime--and worse, convicted of a crime. In Pennsylvania, there is no specific criminal charge of domestic violence. If you're accused of threatening, harassing, or doing harm to a spouse, ex-spouse, domestic partner, or significant other, your criminal charges will be filed according to the specific allegation(s). Examples of criminal charges associated with domestic violence in PA include:
- Terroristic threats
- Criminal mischief
- Unlawful restraint
- False imprisonment
- Rape/Sexual assault
The penalties for conviction of will depend on a variety of factors, including the specific charge (misdemeanor or felony), your prior criminal record (if any), and the severity of the allegations. Generally speaking, you can expect to face any of the following and/or a combination of these penalties:
- Fines (up to $15,000 for misdemeanors, up to $25,000 for felonies)
- Jail time (typically two years up to five years for misdemeanors, up to 20 years for serious felonies)
- Community service
In addition to your sentencing, you can expect to generate a criminal record for any domestic violence conviction. This record will show up on criminal background checks for at least ten years after you've served your sentence--and in many cases, permanently, since crimes against families are not eligible for automatic expungement. This criminal record can affect your ability to get a job, get an education, find a place to live, etc.
Protection From Abuse Orders
For many accused of domestic violence, actually being convicted of a crime is the least of their concerns. The reason is that you can be served with a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order without ever being convicted or indeed even being charged with a crime.
A PFA order is a civil order that's designed to protect the victim from further abuse. It can prohibit you from having any contact with your accuser whatsoever--including making contact through a third party, such as mutual friends or family. If you violate a PFA order, you will be guilty of a misdemeanor and can be sentenced to up to 6 months in jail.
Perhaps the most concerning thing about a PFA order is that the burden of proof for obtaining one is much lower than convicting you of a crime. All the accuser has to do is convince a judge that they're in "reasonable fear" of imminent harm from you. Once the order is obtained, you will have to go to court to try and get it lifted--and even if you are ultimately successful, the PFA order remains in publicly accessible court records for years to come.
Having a PFA order filed against you carries with it the potential for some very disruptive consequences in your life. These include:
- Being barred from contact with your accuser (e.g., spouse, domestic partner, co-parent of your child)
- Being forced to move out of your home to obey the PFA (but still having to pay the rent or mortgage on it)
- Changing your daily routine to avoid incidental contact with your accuser
- Being forced to surrender any firearms you own
- Having to attend counseling or other treatment programs
- Temporarily losing custody of your children or being denied visitation rights
While a PFA can temporarily pre-empt custody rights of your children, the long-term threat is if the other parent uses the allegations of domestic violence as leverage to have your custody or visitation rights revoked.
As with PFA orders, you don't have to have been charged with any crime for allegations of domestic violence to affect your custody rights because family court is different than criminal court. The fact that domestic violence is considered a "serious allegation" in family law proceedings means that the other parent doesn't have to prove anything to get a judge to take away your custody or visitation rights. All they need to do is make a convincing argument that domestic violence occurred and/or that it's likely to occur in the future. Things can be even worse if the specific allegation is child abuse since the courts lean heavily toward protecting children and acting in their best interests.
Finally, accusations of domestic violence can have a negative impact on your job and career prospects. Having a criminal conviction on your record can prevent you from working at certain types of jobs or for certain employers. It can also disqualify you from applying for certain types of professional licenses (e.g., doctor, nurse, therapist, social worker). And if you are currently a licensed professional, a domestic violence conviction or even a PFA can trigger an investigation by your state licensing board that could result in disciplinary action, up to and including having your license revoked.
Considering how far-reaching the consequences of domestic violence accusations can be, your best hope of avoiding the worst outcomes and improving your prospects is to hire a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney with specific experience in domestic violence cases. A good attorney can help you contest an unfair PFA, defend you against criminal charges, and work on your behalf to minimize other risks that come with these allegations.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience helping clients who are facing negative consequences from domestic violence accusations. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to see how we can help.