While it's fairly easy in Pennsylvania to get someone arrested on suspicion of domestic violence or even to get a Protection from Abuse Order against them, actually prosecuting domestic violence charges is another matter. If you're facing criminal charges related to alleged domestic violence, to convict you, the prosecution must present evidence that shows your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt--and that can be a challenge because domestic violence incidents frequently happen in private where it's one person's word against the other.
Even so, it's unwise to assume the prosecution doesn't have a solid case against you or that there isn't sufficient evidence to procure a conviction. Even if you aren't convicted--or even if no charges are filed--your accuser can still cause problems for you. The burden of proof for custody challenges and PFAs, for example, is much lower than that of proving criminal charges--and the repercussions of these may follow you for years to come.
Call a Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Defense Attorney Today
Because even an accusation of domestic violence can have far-reaching implications, it's important to hire a skilled Pennsylvania domestic violence attorney at the first sign of trouble. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully defended many people against unfair accusations of domestic violence. To schedule a consultation, call 888-535-3686.
What Is Used As Evidence in Domestic Violence Cases
Prosecutors of domestic violence charges will typically rely on as many sources of evidence as possible to prove their case against you. Let's look at some of the most common.
Physical evidence is perhaps the most reliable proof prosecutors can use in domestic violence cases because it is objective. Examples of physical evidence may include:
- Evidence of injuries to the victim (e.g., bruises, cuts, scratches, and other physical injuries
- Damage to personal property, such as a broken window or a hole punched in a wall
- Photographic evidence
If the victim of domestic violence goes to the hospital or sees a doctor, medical records can provide valuable evidence of abuse for prosecutors. These may include:
- An emergency room report detailing the victim's injuries
- A physician's notes from an examination of the victim
- Medical bills and records of previous treatments for injuries suffered by the victim
Police reports are another valuable piece of evidence in domestic violence cases. If the police are called to the scene of an alleged domestic violence incident, they will create a report documenting what happened. This report can be used by prosecutors to establish probable cause for arrest and to support their case at trial.
If there were people who saw the domestic violence incident take place, they might be able to provide valuable testimony for prosecutors. Eyewitnesses may include:
- Neighbors or other bystanders
- Friends or family members of the victim or accused
- Children who witnessed the violence and are able/willing to testify
These days, electronic communications between the victim and accused can provide an indelible record that offers context. Text messages, emails, social media posts, or other communications may often be used to create a narrative of volatility in the relationship, especially if threats were involved.
Testimony of the Victim
One might assume the alleged victim's testimony would be the most compelling piece of evidence against you--but this is not always the case because in domestic violence cases, the relationship between the victim and accused can cloud objectivity and make their testimony unreliable. Victims are frequently known to recant or change their story, misremember facts, or simply desire to withdraw their complaint.
Evidence for Protection From Abuse Orders
While not criminal in nature, Protection from Abuse orders (PFA) can have a significant impact on the lives of those accused of domestic violence. A PFA is a civil order that requires the accused to stay away from the victim and prohibits him or her from contacting the victim in any way. A PFA may be issued and remain in place even if you are acquitted of criminal charges--and even if no charges are filed at all. A PFA can also impact your custody and visitation rights, and PFAs now even require the surrender of firearms.
Since PFAs are not criminal actions, the burden of proof is much lower than that for criminal charges. A judge does not have to have conclusive evidence that you committed an act of violence against your significant other--he/she only has to be convinced that you pose a potential threat to the safety of the petitioner. For that reason, while victim testimony might not carry as much clout in a criminal trial as you'd expect, it can hold great sway in a PFA hearing. In fact, many vindictive partners may use the PFA as a tactic to inflict punishment on the accused rather than pressing criminal charges--and they are not above leveling false accusations to do so.
Defenses to Domestic Violence Charges in Pennsylvania
If you're facing domestic violence charges, it's important to understand that there are defenses available to you, but they will require a careful review of the evidence against you and a strategic approach. Some common defenses a good attorney may use include:
- Self-defense (or defense of a third party): You may be able to claim self-defense if you can show that you reasonably believed you or another person was in imminent danger of bodily injury and that the force you used was necessary to prevent that harm.
- Lack of knowledge and intent: In cases where there is no physical evidence (e.g., terroristic threats or harassment charges), your attorney may argue that you had no intention of inflicting harm and were not aware that your actions were causing the alleged victim to fear for their safety. (This defense often works because prosecutors must prove you willfully tried to cause harm.
- False allegations: Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon defense in domestic violence cases. If you can provide evidence that the alleged victim made false allegations against you for revenge, financial gain, or another ulterior motive, your attorney may be able to get the charges dismissed.
If you're facing domestic violence charges, it's important to seek legal counsel right away. Speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can review the evidence against you, help you develop a strong defense, and fight for the best possible outcome in your case. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has extensive experience in handling a case like yours. Whether you're fighting criminal charges or a PFA, call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.