Domestic Violence: Procedure at the Scene
In Pennsylvania, you can be arrested for domestic violence if police officers arrive on scene and determine that an incident took place – they don't need a warrant to arrest you. If police officers arrive and place someone under arrest on suspicion of domestic violence, here's what happens at the scene and what you should do immediately after an arrest.
When Law Enforcement Arrive
Pennsylvania takes domestic violence allegations seriously. As a result, police officers typically respond quickly to domestic violence calls, so it may feel like everything is moving extremely fast. Regardless of what the accuser says happened, there's a process to how officers will behave once they arrive at the scene.
Under Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Criminal Codes, police officers can arrest you without a warrant if they have “probable cause” to believe the incident took place. This means seeing physical injuries on the accuser or finding “other corroborative evidence” such as a weapon.
Importantly, the accuser may also be arrested if the accused makes their own allegations of domestic violence, and these allegations are supported by what police officers find at the scene.
The prosecution can't prove criminal charges against you without sufficient evidence. As domestic violence is a criminal offense, the prosecution must prove the specific charges against you “beyond reasonable doubt”. This is not easy, so at the scene, police officers will spend time gathering as much evidence as they can find to determine what happened. The exact evidence they're looking for varies depending on the circumstances; however, here are some examples of evidence they will seek out.
- Bodily Injury: physical wounds such as cuts, bruises, broken bones
- Witnesses: neighbors, friends or family, or anyone else in the vicinity
- Physical Evidence: damage to property or personal belongings
- Photographs: photographs taken by the accuser or, where appropriate, police officers
If the accuser sees a doctor or visits the emergency room for their injuries, the medical records will form part of the prosecution's case.
The Police Report
The police officers who attended the scene must prepare a report of their findings. This is known as the police report, and it contains information on the evidence found at the scene. The prosecution will attempt to use the police report to make their case and establish the grounds for the arrest.
Protection from Abuse (PFA) Orders
In domestic violence cases, it's very common for the alleged victim to seek a temporary PFA against the accused alongside having them arrested for domestic abuse. A PFA is a civil rather than criminal order; however, it's no less important. For example, even if police officers don't arrest you at the scene for domestic violence, they can still serve a PFA and force you to comply with it.
- If you're served with a PFA, you must comply with the order immediately – even if this means leaving your own home without time to collect your belongings.
- A temporary PFA stays in place until a final hearing date is set, which is usually within 10 days. A criminal defense attorney can represent you at this hearing to either adjust the terms of the PFA or show why it's not necessary.
- You will normally be expected to hand over any firearms or weapons to police officers at least until the final hearing date. This is an interim measure designed to ensure the accuser's safety.
Your attorney can explain the difference between domestic violence charges and a PFA order, so you understand the case against you and what happens next.
Violating a PFA
Although a PFA is a civil matter, it's a criminal offense to violate the order. Police officers can arrest you if there's cause to believe you've breached the terms of a PFA.
- Violating a PFA is known as criminal contempt. Penalties include fines of up to $1,000 and up to six months in jail.
- Harsher penalties apply if someone violates a PFA and commits an act of domestic violence such as assault, rape, or sexual assault.
- There are also steeper penalties for repeat domestic violence offenders.
What To Do if You're Arrested for Domestic Violence
If you're facing domestic violence charges, it's normal to feel confused, anxious, and overwhelmed. However, here are some suggestions for how you might handle the situation.
- Always cooperate with police officers. Even if you did nothing wrong, you could face additional charges for e.g., resisting arrest if you're uncooperative or aggressive.
- It's best to avoid answering any questions about what happened until you've retained a criminal defense attorney – otherwise, you risk accidentally saying something which could be perceived as incriminating. You should hire an attorney immediately.
- Under no circumstances should you attempt to contact the accuser, especially if there's a PFA filed against you, or you're subject to a “stay away” order. Any communications from you may be used to strengthen the prosecution's case and violating a PFA can merit criminal charges.
Your attorney will explain what happens next and what defenses may be open to you based on the evidence.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help With Your Case
Being arrested for alleged domestic violence is a highly stressful and traumatic experience. It's crucial that you hire a criminal defense attorney immediately so that your rights are protected at all times.
At the Lento Law Firm, we know you deserve effective legal representation to help you achieve the best possible outcome. Joseph Lento is an experienced criminal defense attorney who is committed to building an aggressive case against the allegations against you – contact him now on 888.535.3686 or complete the online form to learn more about how the Lento Law Firm can help.