"Can you hear me now?" We all know the Verizon Wireless tag line, but these days, the question is, "Do you know where I am now?" Our cell phones pinpoint our locations almost every moment of the day, pinging back to cell phone towers near where we are. But did you know that your cell phone could be the key to your defense in a domestic violence charge? In Pennsylvania, domestic violence isn't a separate criminal charge like assault. However, in cases where the parties are in a domestic relationship, law enforcement officials will handle those criminal charges a bit differently.
What is Domestic Violence?
Under Pennsylvania Law, a domestic relationship exists where the parties are "family or household members," former or current intimate dating partners, or people who have parented a child together. "Family or household members" includes current or former spouses, people who lived together like spouses, parents, and children, and other related by blood or affinity.
Domestic abuse exists if there is a domestic relationship and includes the following acts:
1. Intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault, or incest with or without a deadly weapon.
2. Placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury.
3. The infliction of false imprisonment under the Pennsylvania code.
4. Physically or sexually abusing minor children.
5. Knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, without proper authority, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury.
It's important to understand that law enforcement and prosecutors take domestic violence charges quite seriously in Pennsylvania. As a result, police have the right to arrest you without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that you committed domestic abuse against a family or household member. Standard charges related to domestic violence may include harassment, stalking, assault, stalking, child abuse, sexual assault, false imprisonment, and kidnapping.
It's also common for a partner claiming domestic violence to seek a Protection from Abuse Order, generally known simply as a protective order, limiting the contact you may have with your current or former family or household members. Courts issue protective orders when they believe that a victim of domestic abuse needs protection from their abuser. The court will generally issue a temporary order and set a hearing to hear from both parties to determine whether the protective order should become permanent. A permanent order is good for up to three years.
Protective orders are intended to protect a child or family member from an abuser, but sometimes vindictive ex-partners can abuse this process. A protective order can limit how close you can get to your ex, your former home, your children, or your children's school. A protective order could also prevent you from communicating with your family members except through an attorney.
Violating a protective order can have serious repercussions because it's considered criminal contempt of court. The law allows for the court to impose a fine of up to $1,000 as well as six months in jail. A protective order could also affect any future court case related to custody or even child abuse. So, it's essential to consult an attorney right away if your partner seeks to impose a protective order against you.
If a family member makes allegations of domestic violence, it's crucial to think about the information you may already have that may exonerate you or prove extenuating circumstances like self-defense. Most of us carry our mobile phones everywhere without a thought, but information on your phone or other electronic devices may help your defense.
· Emails, text messages, and app messages to and from your family members can help establish if your family member was making threats or even contain admissions of violent acts against you or your children.
· Call records can help establish your credibility. For instance, if you tell the police that your ex-spouse called and threatened you, your call records will reflect her call.
· GPS and cell tower information can help establish where you were at the time of an assault and whether you were at the scene of a crime.
While cell phone information can often be exculpatory or help establish your story's credibility, it can be difficult to access. It's also essential to ensure that you correctly preserve this electronic evidence to be admissible in court. That's why you must speak to a skilled criminal attorney with experience handling domestic violence matters.
Defenses to Domestic Violence Charges
Some common defenses to domestic violence charges include:
· I didn't do it.
In this case, you deny that you had anything to do with the alleged assault. Your attorney will need to establish where you were and determine whether you were or weren't at the crime scene.
· They lied.
Did your partner fabricate the entire assault? Your attorney will see whether they have injuries consistent with the alleged assault and whether the police report is consistent with the victim's claims.
· Self-defense or provocation
If you claim you were defending yourself or your children, your attorney will compare your account to the police report. Your attorney will also see if the victim admitted to the police that they used violence and why. Your attorney will also want to see and document any defensive wounds you may have.
· Prosecutors can't prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
If there's no evidence of the allegations against you or the victim won't testify, your attorney will check police reports for any corroborating evidence like physical injuries, damaged property at the scene of the alleged crime fingerprints at the scene of the crime or on a weapon.
· Investigative errors
If you committed the assault, but there were investigative errors or police misconduct, your attorney will take steps to prove the error. They may review whether the police recorded your interrogation, gave you your Miranda rights before your interrogation, denied your request for a lawyer, had probable cause to search or interrogate you, collected physical evidence, and more.
In many cases, evidence from your cell phone can help your case. If you are facing a domestic abuse-related charge or a Protection from Abuse Order, you should talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. The Lento Law Firm has more than two decades of experience helping Pennsylvania defendants charged with domestic violence. Give us a call at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.