Across the U.S., roughly 90% of criminal cases that result in a conviction involve some form of a negotiated plea agreement. Bureau of Justice data affirms that cases involving domestic violence are consistent with this trend. In some of these cases, the defendant is innocent; however, they may agree to reduced charges or enter a diversionary program based on uncertainty, fear, and/or a lack of legal guidance. Individuals accused of these and other offenses should always retain an experienced criminal defense attorney that will aggressively challenge the evidence and diligently work to prove your innocence.
Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania's criminal statutes do not contain a specific offense of “domestic violence.” The suspect is charged with an existing crime that relates to violence such as assault, aggravated assault, sexual assault, stalking, strangulation, and others that may be a misdemeanor or felony offenses. Instead, state law differentiates domestic violence cases based on the parties involved in the incident. These are matters occurring among “family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood.”
Acts of domestic violence may involve a perpetrator that creates an atmosphere where the victim is intimidated, fears they will incur bodily harm, or is falsely imprisoned or kidnapped. Acts of physical or sexual abuse against minor children may also be considered as domestic violence.
Proving the Guilt of a Defendant
Before explaining the affirmative defenses available to those faced with charges related to domestic violence, it is important to clarify the standard of evidence or burden of proof required for a conviction. To prevail in a criminal case, the prosecution (plaintiff) must prove their case “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Further, this standard equates to whether a rational individual would conclude that the evidence shows that no other logical explanation could be reached.
Possible Affirmative Defenses in Domestic Violence Cases
The accused may employ a defense that claims the use of force was justified to protect themselves. Self-defense is most appropriate when the accuser was the aggressor, the accused feared serious injury, and there were no "reasonable" means of retreat from the situation. This defense may also apply to the use of force necessary to protect a child or other third-party under certain circumstances.
Lack of Intent
The charges may have an element that requires that the actor was acting with intent. For example, simple assault involves either intentionally attempting to cause bodily harm or recklessly causing harm.
No Serious Bodily Injury
Your defense attorney may challenge that the alleged victim truly incurred a “serious bodily injury.” State law defines bodily injury as an “impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.” Serious bodily injury implies a “substantial risk of death” or some “permanent disfigurement” or loss of function.
In some cases, the credibility or competence of the alleged victim may be questioned as a means of defense. Perhaps some evidence shows that the accuser has underlying personal motives for making allegations? The accuser may have clear mental incapacity or have a recent history of making false accusations.
Types of Evidence That May Bolster Your Defense
- Voice messages, text messages, e-mails or other forms of documented electronic communication
- Testimony from witnesses that is admissible evidence
- Photographs and medical records of your injuries
Potential Underlying Motivations of Accusers and Challenging the Merit of Allegations
In many instances, allegations of domestic violence have been the result of spite, jealousy, and are motivated by a desire for revenge. This is sometimes the case among couples ending long-term relationships or marriage. An alleged victim may exaggerate their version of events as a way of obtaining leverage in divorce proceedings, to acquire financial support, or potentially gain other benefits.
Protection From Abuse Orders (PFA) and Potential Collateral Consequences of a Conviction
Another consideration for a defendant seeking to prove their innocence is the potential collateral consequences or ramifications. These are adverse results that may occur other than the court-imposed penalties such as incarceration, fines and court costs, and probation. Many of the collateral consequences that apply specifically apply to cases of domestic violence result from a PFA.
Immediately following charges of domestic violence, the court may impose a temporary PFA during the legal proceedings and may impose a permanent PFA thereafter. The PFA may significantly reduce the amount of interaction that a parent has with minor children or require that any visitation or parenting time be supervised, which is awkward and typically uncomfortable. A PFA may also prohibit the individual from owning or possessing a firearm, prohibit an individual from living, working, or attending a school in a location that is close to the alleged victim. Any violation of a PFA rule may also have criminal implications.
The individual may be arrested, detained in jail, and could miss work. Their employer may become aware of the allegations, which could create problems at work. A criminal record may cause difficulties when subject to background screening for future employment or professional licensing.
Those accused of domestic violence often recognize that a stigma exists that harms their personal and professional reputation. In today's connected digital environment, information about the arrest may surface on the internet with rumors and misinformation and rapidly circulate via word-of-mouth and social media.
Why is Retaining Experienced Legal Representation a Priority?
Charges that relate to domestic violence may be serious felony offenses that are punishable by many years of incarceration. Prosecutors across the state are often facing case volumes that are unmanageable and may be inclined to proceed hastily without properly acknowledging the rights of those accused. A knowledgeable defense lawyer will better ensure your rights are protected, challenge the evidence, may consider mutually acceptable resolutions and otherwise work according to your best interest.
Skilled Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Defense Attorney
Individuals arrested and charged with an offense stemming from an incident of domestic violence must promptly speak with a lawyer that has years of experience representing clients in these cases. Attorney Joseph D. Lento understands what is potentially at stake. He will work to preserve your rights and maintain your freedom as part of a broad strategy of defense. Make the call to (888) 535-3686 today for assistance.