We typically think of domestic violence as a physical action taken against a spouse, partner, or family member (such as assault). However, in the State of Pennsylvania, many different types of crimes may fall under the category of domestic violence--as long as the alleged victim is a current or former spouse, intimate partner, or family member. In fact, many such crimes involve no physical contact at all! One common example is the crime of harassment.
If a spouse, partner, or family member accuses you of domestic violence harassment, you may be facing serious repercussions. If convicted of a crime, you could face fines and/or jail time. You may also be subject to a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA), which could limit your ability to see your family or even enter your own home--not to mention impact your custody rights if you share a child with the alleged victim.
Harassment Domestic Violence Defense Attorney in Pennsylvania
Serious implications exist in Pennsylvania for those individuals accused of domestic violence, both the guilty and innocent. That's why you need an experienced domestic violence defense attorney on your side if you've been so accused. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney with a long track record of success defending clients against charges of domestic violence. To schedule a consultation, call 888-535-3686.
What Is Domestic Violence Harassment?
Unlike other states, Pennsylvania law doesn't recognize a specific crime of domestic violence. Rather, what differentiates domestic violence from other crimes is the relationship between the defendant and the victim. Thus, if you are accused of harassing a partner, spouse, or family member, you may be charged simply with the crime of harassment, but you may be facing other repercussions because it is considered domestic violence.
Harassment is defined in the State of Pennsylvania in Title 18, Section 2709 as an action "with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another." Specific acts of harassment include, but are not limited to:
- Making physical contact with someone in a manner that is harassing or threatening (or attempting to do so)
- Following the person around from place to place
- Communicating using lewd, obscene, or threatening words, texts, images, etc.
- Communicating with the person repeatedly in an anonymous manner
- Repeated communications at odd or inconvenient hours (e.g., at night when they're trying to sleep)
- Committing repeated actions toward the victim which serve no good purpose
"Communication" under the law refers to any type, including face-to-face, phone calls, emails, texts, letters, verbal communication, images, etc.
Examples of Domestic Violence Harassment
Example 1: Janet breaks up with her boyfriend, Tom, telling him that he is so involved in her personal business that he is smothering her. Angst-ridden and frustrated, Tom begins hanging around outside Janet's workplace, following her on her walk home and repeatedly saying, "I just want to talk." Janet begins to fear that his obsession with her is making her unsafe. Tom may be charged with domestic violence harassment for his constant annoyance of Janet.
Example 2: Sarah and her girlfriend Katie have been dating for several months, and things seem to be going well. However, one night Sarah goes through Katie's phone and finds a text from another woman that seems flirtatious. Sarah goes into a rage, texting Katie dozens of times throughout the night with threatening messages like "I'll kill you," "You're a whore," and "I'll make you sorry." Sarah may be charged with domestic violence harassment for her relentless, threatening text message campaign.
Penalties of Harassment
Since harassment generally doesn't involve physical attacks or injury, most instances of harassment in Pennsylvania are prosecuted as summary offenses or third-degree misdemeanors. A conviction for a summary offense can lead to $300 in fines and 90 days or less in jail. For 3rd-degree misdemeanors, you could face up to a year in jail and fines up to $2500 if convicted. However, if you have a prior conviction for harassing the same victim, your charge could get upgraded to a 2nd-degree misdemeanor, which has a maximum penalty of two years in jail and up to $5000 in fines.
Additional Issues with Domestic Violence Harassment
Because Pennsylvania doesn't recognize domestic violence as its own specific crime, if you're charged with a crime for harassing a significant other, your charge will simply be harassment. However, when this crime is committed in the context of domestic violence, there are other complications and consequences to consider:
- First: you're more likely to be arrested. Under normal circumstances, law enforcement won't arrest someone accused of harassment unless they find probable cause for doing so. However, domestic violence laws in Pennsylvania require law enforcement to make an arrest when answering a domestic violence call, regardless of whether they specifically see evidence of it. Thus, even if you're ultimately not charged with a crime, the odds of getting arrested for domestic violence harassment are quite high if a partner or family member accuses you.
- A Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) is more likely. If a spouse, partner, or family member claims you are harassing them in violation of the law, they can petition the court for a PFA against you. If a temporary PFA is granted, you could be immediately banned from having any contact with the victim. If it's a live-in partner or spouse, you could be forced to move out of your home, and you may possibly lose custody of any children you share in common. If the PFA is finalized, it stays in effect for up to 3 years. The PFA can also stay in effect even if no criminal charges are ultimately filed--and even if you beat the charges.
Hire an Experienced PA Domestic Violence Defense Attorney
If you've been charged with domestic violence harassment in Pennsylvania, it's crucial that you seek out experienced legal representation as soon as possible. Not only can the consequences of a conviction be significant, but even being accused of domestic violence can cause a great disruption to your life. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has plenty of experience dealing with all aspects of domestic violence cases, from challenging unfair PFAs to defending against criminal charges.