Domestic violence is a serious issue that can have lasting effects on both the victim and the perpetrator. In Pennsylvania, domestic violence laws are designed to protect victims and punish offenders. However, how those laws are applied can vary depending on whether the offender is a first-time or repeat offender.
If you've recently been arrested and charged with a crime under suspicion of domestic abuse, you may have many questions, especially if this is your first arrest. What will happen next? What are the possible penalties? How will this affect your future? An experienced Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney can help you understand the charges against you, what to expect in court, and what steps to take to minimize the risk of severe penalties. You may also be eligible for a domestic violence diversion program which can help you avoid a criminal record, and a good attorney can help you apply for this type of program.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience defending people accused of domestic violence in Pennsylvania. He will work to get you the most favorable outcome while making sure your rights are protected. To schedule a consultation, call 888-535-3686.
Standard Maximum Penalties for Domestic Violence Crimes in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania does not specifically recognize domestic violence as a crime separate from other crimes. Rather, it defines a crime as an act of domestic violence by the relationship of the alleged perpetrator to the victim. Specifically, if you are accused of committing an act of violence against a spouse, ex-spouse, dating or former dating partner, co-habitant, live-in relative, etc., your alleged crime will classify as domestic abuse, and the courts will impose additional protections for the victim accordingly. However, your actual criminal charge will be for the specific criminal act. For example, if you're accused of assaulting your husband or wife, your charge will be assault, the same as if you had assaulted a stranger.
The State of Pennsylvania classifies criminal offenses into various degrees of misdemeanors and felonies, including those committed as a result of domestic violence. The maximum penalties for the most minor offense category (third-degree misdemeanors) are up to 1 year in jail and up to $2500 in fines. For first-degree felony offenses (the most serious charges), you could face up to 20 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
Mitigated Sentencing and Other Alternatives for First-Time Domestic Violence Offenders
While the judge has the right to impose the maximum sentence for any criminal conviction depending on the circumstances, first-time domestic violence offenders rarely receive the most severe possible sentence. The court will consider the fact that you're a first-time offender as a mitigating factor and impose a more lenient sentence as a way to rehabilitate you and help you avoid repeat offenses. A mitigated sentence is one that often does not involve incarceration, although you will still be found guilty of the crime. There are even alternatives available that may help you avoid a criminal conviction and keep your criminal record clean. Let's take a look at some of the more common sentences imposed on first-time domestic violence offenders.
Probation is frequently issued to first-time offenders as an alternative to a jail sentence. Sometimes, it's imposed with a suspended sentence, meaning your jail sentence is canceled when you complete the terms of probation. When you are placed on probation in Pennsylvania, you're required to adhere to certain conditions set by the court. These conditions typically include regular check-ins with a probation officer, abstaining from drug and alcohol use, submitting to regular drug tests, community service, and refraining from criminal activity. If you fail to comply with the terms of their probation, you may be subject to penalties such as jail time, fines, or an extension of your probationary period.
Mandatory Anger Management Classes or Counseling
In some cases, the court will order you to attend anger management classes or counseling as part of your sentence. These programs are typically offered through community organizations, mental health professionals, and even some employers. The goal is to help you learn how to deal with anger in a constructive way so that you don't resort to violence in the future.
Mandatory Drug/Alcohol Treatment or Counseling
If drug or alcohol abuse is determined to be a factor in your domestic violence offense, the court may require you to seek treatment as part of your sentence. Drug and alcohol counseling can help you address any underlying issues that may have contributed to your behavior. It can also provide tools and resources to help you stay sober and avoid relapse in the future.
Stay Away Orders
If you don't have a prior history of domestic violence, but the judge feels you may still pose a threat to the victim, the court may impose a Stay Away Order for the duration of any other sentence you may be serving. This order has the same general effect as a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, except that it is initiated by the judge rather than your accuser. The Stay Away Order will limit or completely ban you from having contact with your accuser or coming within a certain physical distance, and violating the order can result in additional criminal charges.
Domestic Violence Diversion Program
In Pennsylvania, first-time domestic violence offenders may be eligible for a Domestic Violence Diversion Program. This program is designed to help offenders take responsibility for their actions and make positive changes in their lives to avoid future offenses. Among the requirements of Domestic Violence Diversion are to attend mandatory anger management, drug/alcohol counseling, or similar courses. If you successfully complete the program, which typically lasts between six and eighteen months, the charges against you will be dropped, and you will avoid having a criminal record. Only first-time offenders are eligible, and there are other eligibility requirements, such as your offense can't be a felony and must not have involved weapons, sexual abuse, or serious injury.
Hire a Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Today
Being charged with domestic violence in Pennsylvania can be frightening and concerning, but if you're a first-time offender, you have numerous options for leniency--especially with the help of an experienced domestic violence defense attorney like Joseph D. Lento. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to learn more.