Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Defenses

Approximately 123 individuals died statewide in 2018 resulting from incidents of domestic violence. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as being intentionally committed acts involving “intimidation, battery, sexual assault, and other abusive behavior” that occurs among intimate partners. In many cases, a pattern of behavior develops where the abuser seeks to assert their power. Individuals that face these allegations often experience devastating consequences; therefore, those accused must promptly speak with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

The Pennsylvania Protection from Abuse Act (§ 6101)

Pennsylvania's provisions under Domestic Relations explain that domestic violence occurs among “family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood.” Many different acts may constitute domestic violence including:

  • Acts committed with intent or recklessly that result in bodily harm, severe bodily injury, rape, forced intercourse, or sexual assault that may or may not involve a lethal weapon
  • The abuser may create a fearful atmosphere that poses a threat of bodily harm, such as stalking an individual
  • It may be demonstrated through false imprisonment
  • May include physical or sexually-oriented abuse of minor children

Charges of Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania

The criminal laws do not have a specific “domestic violence” charge, rather these cases are brought as either a misdemeanor or felony offenses that relate to violence. Some of the common offenses that apply to these cases are simple or aggravated assault, stalking, recklessly endangering, strangulation, and more. The following chart illustrates the maximum penalties that may be imposed according to Pennsylvania law:

Offense Level

Maximum Incarceration

Maximum Fine

1st Degree Felony

Twenty Years

$25,000

2nd Degree Felony

Ten Years

$25,000

3rd Degree Felony

Seven Years

$15,000

1st Degree Misdemeanor

Five Years

$10,000

2nd Degree Misdemeanor

Two Years

$5,000

3rd Degree Misdemeanor

One Year

$2,500

What Defenses May Apply in Domestic Violence Cases?

Self Defense

A defendant may claim that the use of force was justified to protect themselves. This defense is most appropriate when the accuser was the initial aggressor, there was fear of serious injury, and there were no "reasonable" means of retreating. This defense may also apply to the use of force necessary to protect a third-party under certain circumstances.

Lack of Intent

The charges may be defended based on a lack of any intention to commit the crime. For example, simple assault involves either intentionally attempting to cause bodily harm or recklessly causing harm.

No Serious Bodily Injury

The defense may challenge the assertion that the victim incurred a “serious bodily injury.” State law defines bodily injury as an “impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.” Serious bodily injury constitutes a “substantial risk of death” or some “permanent disfigurement” or loss of function.

Some other defenses and strategies may be considered based on individual circumstances. A knowledgeable defense attorney may challenge the credibility of the accuser or employ tactics that may significantly reduce the severity of the charges.

Seasoned Defense Lawyer Represents Clients in Domestic Violence Cases

Members of law enforcement and prosecutors across Pennsylvania are taking allegations of domestic violence very seriously. In some cases, overburdened court officials may rush to judgment without properly analyzing all the evidence and circumstances involved. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has spent many years representing clients in these types of cases and will ensure your rights are protected and formulate an effective strategy of defense. Contact the office today at (888) 535-3686.

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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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