A crime of domestic violence is defined by the victim in the action. Pennsylvania law designates certain individuals as "household members" who are protected from criminal acts. Household members include individuals with whom a person shares a child, a current or former spouse, a current or former intimate partner, relatives, parents, or children. Acts of domestic violence have more serious penalties and may affect several aspects of a person's life. The Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas will handle all disputes of domestic violence. The situation can be resolved on both the family law and criminal law fronts at the court.
Domestic Violence in Philadelphia County
Domestic violence involves certain violent criminal acts and can also come in other forms. Some common acts of domestic violence include:
- Rape: Forcing the act of non-consensual intercourse on a person through use of force or threats is considered a crime
- Sexual Assault: Engaging in any other forms of sexual contact without consent can be considered a domestic violence crime
- Assault: Causing a person to suffer bodily harm through the use of any deliberate actions with or without a weapon is a crime
- Pattern of Abuse: Consistently and repeatedly demonstrating abusive or violent behavior towards someone may be considered a pattern of abuse, and can be used in court against a person
- Child Abuse: Abusive actions that are physically or sexually violent towards children can fall under the category of child abuse
- Terroristic threats: Causing a person to fear for their safety or fear imminent bodily harm is considered a crime of violence as well
Police actions in Philadelphia County in Domestic Violence Cases
Police officers are given greater authority to make arrests in situations that evoke suspicion of acts of domestic violence. Officers may arrest individuals without actually seeing the crime committed. The officer will most likely briefly examine the scene for things such as injuries, broken objects, or any signs of a struggle, and make a quick judgment and possibly an arrest. Such an immediate judgment means that the officer may only go off his or her feelings based on what is present at the time and may not take into account everyone's side of the story. In addition, an officer can make an arrest if a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order has been violated.
After a Domestic Violence Arrest in Philadelphia County
Domestic violence criminal charges will be addressed in Philadelphia Municipal Court, a division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. If a person is charged with misdemeanor offenses only, a Philadelphia Municipal Court trial will be scheduled to adjudicate the matter. If a person is charged with any felony offense, a preliminary hearing will be scheduled in Philadelphia Municipal Court; this will be the case whether or not any misdemeanor offenses are also charged. Domestic violence criminal charges in Philadelphia are generally scheduled to be heard in either courtroom 906 (known as "Love Court") or courtroom 405 of the Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice located in Center City Philadelphia; commonly referred to as the "Criminal Justice Center," or the "CJC."
At both a Philadelphia Municipal Court trial involving only misdemeanor charges and at a preliminary hearing involving any felony charge, the case against the person charged with domestic violence offenses will be prosecuted by a representative of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; generally an assistant district attorney from the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office.
Domestic Violence Municipal Court Trial in Philadelphia County
At a Philadelphia Municipal Court trial involving domestic violence charges, the defendant can be found "not guilty" of some or all of the charges, or the defendant can be found "guilty" of some or all of the charges.
Domestic Violence Preliminary Hearing in Philadelphia County
At a domestic violence preliminary hearing in Philadelphia, the prospective scenarios are more involved because Philadelphia has a court system that has unique jurisdictional grounds. Domestic violence charges can be dismissed, withdrawn, or "held for court," meaning that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has met their burden against the defendant and that the case will move forward. In Philadelphia, a domestic violence case can also be "remanded" to Philadelphia Municipal Court if the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania failed to meet its burden regarding the felony charge or charges. In other words, if felony charge or charges are dismissed for lack of evidence in the sense that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania did not establish a "prima facie" case against the defendant (for the felony charge or charges), the misdemeanor charges will be "remanded," or scheduled for a misdemeanor trial.
If any felony domestic violence offense in Philadelphia is "held for court" at a preliminary hearing, a formal arraignment date will be scheduled to be heard by the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in two weeks. Thereafter, a domestic violence case will generally either go to trial or be resolved through non-trial disposition, which is generally through an agreement between the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, the defendant, the defendant's attorney, and the judge. At the applicable time, domestic violence charges may also be withdrawn or dismissed in some instances.
Domestic Violence Diversion Programs in Philadelphia County
The Philadelphia Court and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office will allow certain defendants to resolve domestic violence charges through the appropriate "DV Diversion" program: "Tier 1" or "Tier 2" ("DV" stands for "Domestic Violence)." In very limited instances, a DV Diversion program may be offered to a defendant shortly after being charged, but generally, the defendant's attorney has to negotiate such a prospective resolution by advocating the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office why that particular defendant is deserving of a "second chance." Whether offered by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, or whether a defendant's attorney has to obtain approval, a defendant generally has to have no prior criminal contacts to have any chance of being accepted into a Philadelphia domestic violence diversion program.
If accepted into Philadelphia's DV Diversion program, a defendant will be expected to satisfy certain conditions including counseling and will be supervised by the Court for a designated period of time. The expectations of the Tier 2 Domestic Violence Diversion Program are higher than that of Tier 1. Regardless of which program the defendant is admitted, the conditions are not overly burdensome. If the defendant satisfies his conditions and remains arrest-free, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office will "withdraw" prosecution of the domestic violence charges against the defendant. The defendant will thereafter be able to have the record of his or her arrest and criminal charges expunged by the Court.
Related Domestic Violence Family Law Considerations in Philadelphia County
Because domestic violence criminal charges in Philadelphia often involve family law matters, the Family Division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, known as "Philadelphia Family Court," will adjudicate related Protection from Abuse (PFA) cases and also criminal contempt charges related to an alleged violation of a Protection from Abuse order; whether a temporary or final PFA order.
The Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center is located at 1301 Filbert Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107.
Philadelphia Family Court is located at 1501 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102.
Philadelphia Domestic Violence Defense Attorney | Defense Lawyer for Domestic Violence in Philadelphia County
Domestic violence crimes can complicate a person's life to a significant degree. Even at the level of criminal charges only, a person can lose their rights to firearm ownership and may suffer additional repercussions in areas of family law, such as child custody and divorce matters. For these reasons, it is best to have domestic violence charges handled by an experienced criminal defense attorney.