In the State of Pennsylvania, you do not have to physically injure your significant other--or indeed, even be in the same room with them--to be accused of domestic violence. For example, if your spouse/ex-spouse or other family member accuses you of making harassing or annoying telephone calls, they may be able to procure a protective order against you and even have you criminally charged for harassment under Pennsylvania law.
It is against the law to harass anyone in Pennsylvania, but when the alleged crime is committed against a spouse, dating partner, domestic partner, your child, or another live-in family member, it's also treated as a domestic violence crime, which can create further complications for you if you are so accused. A conviction could result in penalties ranging all the way from simple probation to fines and jail time. If the alleged victim obtains a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) against you, you may be barred from any in-person, email, or telephone contact with the person--and if you share a child with that person, your custody rights could also be affected.
Harassment Domestic Violence Defense Attorney in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is serious about addressing domestic violence, and the consequences of an accusation can be far-reaching, whether you are guilty or not. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney who defends clients against charges of domestic violence and/or phone harassment. To schedule a consultation, call 888-535-3686.
Understanding Harassment Under Pennsylvania Law
To understand how harassing phone calls can be categorized under domestic violence, we must first talk about the laws against harassment in general. The reason is that Pennsylvania doesn't have a separate set of laws addressing domestic violence--rather, many crimes (including harassment) are treated as domestic violence crimes when they are committed against a spouse, ex-spouse, co-habitant, offspring, parent, or live-in relative. This means if you are accused of harassing your significant other, you will likely be charged with criminal harassment, but it will be accompanied by additional protections for the victim as an act of domestic violence.
What Constitutes Harassment in Pennsylvania?
Many different actions can be classified as harassment of someone else under Pennsylvania law as embodied in Section 2709. These include, but may not be limited to:
- Making physical contact with the person in a threatening manner
- Using lewd, obscene, or threatening communication against the person (including words, text, images, etc.)
- Repeated communications that serve no good purpose
- Communicating at inconvenient hours (e.g., waking them up at night)
- Repeated anonymous communications
Under the law, "communication" refers to any type of communication, including face-to-face, phone calls, emails, texts, verbal communication, images, etc. Thus, annoying phone calls are equally treated as harassment, the same as if you followed the person around against their will and verbally assaulted them.
Penalties of Harassment
Most instances of harassment in Pennsylvania are charged as summary offenses or third-degree misdemeanors, depending on the circumstances and severity. For summary offenses, a conviction results in up to $300 in fines and a maximum of 90 days in jail. For third-degree misdemeanors (M3), you could face up to a year in jail and fines up to $2500. If your M3 offense is a repeat offense against the same person, your charges could get upgraded to a 2nd-degree misdemeanor with up to 2 years in jail and up to $5000 in fines.
Examples of Domestic Violence Harassment
Example 1: Jim gets in a verbal argument with his live-in partner Julie, who demands that he move out. No physical contact or injury occurs; Jim simply packs his things and leaves. But then Jim begins leaving repeated voicemails for Julie, threatening to come back and kill her. Julie could make assertions of domestic violence and have Jim charged with harassment--even though Jim never lifted a hand against Julie.
Example 2: Husband-and-wife Fred and Ethel are constantly arguing. To avoid any further confrontations or escalating tensions, Fred moves out. To annoy him, Ethel begins texting Fred 50-100 times a day with texts that range from abusive language to lewd photos. Fred could claim Ethel's harassment is an act of domestic violence, and Ethel could be arrested and charged with a crime.
Harassing Communications as Domestic Violence
Because domestic violence isn't considered its own crime in Pennsylvania, any criminal charges you face will be based on the sort of crime you're accused of committing against your partner (in this case, harassment). However, when harassment is considered a domestic violence offense, you may have to deal with additional complications, including the following:
- An arrest is more likely. Law enforcement is required to make an arrest on domestic violence calls even if they don't actually observe the offense taking place. In other words, the bar of probable cause is lowered to afford more protection for the victim. So, it's more likely that you'll be arrested on suspicion of domestic violence harassment, even if you don't end up getting charged with a crime.
- You may be hit with a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA). Whether or not criminal charges are filed, your accuser may ask the court for a Protection from Abuse Order (PFA) against you. If granted, you could be immediately banned from in-person, phone, or online contact with your partner, be forced from your home and possibly lose custody of any children you share with your partner. If the PFA is finalized, it stays in effect for up to 3 years.
Why You Need a Good Defense Attorney
If you've been arrested or accused of domestic violence over alleged harassing phone calls or other communications, it's important to seek out experienced legal help as soon as possible. Accusations of domestic violence between spouses or family members are often difficult to resolve, and a conviction may have significant impacts. A defense attorney with experience in domestic violence cases can provide an invaluable buffer between you and law enforcement, offer protection from an overly aggressive prosecutor, help you contest an unfair PFA order, and give you the best chance at achieving a favorable outcome in your case.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience defending those accused of domestic violence. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 to discuss your case.