In Pennsylvania, a crime only becomes a “crime of domestic violence” if two conditions are met:
- It is a certain, eligible type of offense under the state's domestic violence statute
- It is committed against a certain class of people, known as “family or household members”
A close look at the types of criminal offenses that can amount to domestic violence reveals an interesting similarity among them: Criminal offenses that result in a fatality to the victim are conspicuously not included in Pennsylvania's domestic violence law.
There's a reason for this. It has to do with the unique penalties that are on the table for people who have been accused of a crime of domestic violence.
Only Certain Offenses Can Become a Crime of Domestic Violence
23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 6102 is a critically important statute in Pennsylvania. It defines the terms used in the state's domestic violence law. One of those definitions is what the law means by the term “abuse.” If conduct falls under the realm of “abuse,” it can amount to domestic violence.
That definition of “abuse” includes the following criminal offenses:
- Aggravated assault
- Involuntary deviate sexual intercourse
- Sexual assault
- Statutory sexual assault
- Indecent assault
- Aggravated indecent assault
- False imprisonment
- Physical or sexual abuse of minor children
One thing that all of these offenses have in common, though, is that none of these violent crimes involve a fatality. Criminal offenses like murder or manslaughter are not considered “abuse.”
Some victims' advocates think that this is an egregious oversight. Here's why they are wrong.
Penalties for Domestic Violence Offenses Focus on Protecting the Victim
The difference between a regular criminal offense and one that has a domestic violence element to it is the penalties that the defendant can face, if convicted.
For example, someone accused of domestic violence assault will face all of the normal punishments that would have been on the table for a regular assault offense, plus the following:
- A mandatory arrest at the scene
- A likely restraining order
- Problems getting or keeping child custody
- Limitations to their Second Amendment rights
All of these enhancements serve to protect the alleged victim of the crime by limiting the freedoms of the defendant.
Fatalities Make This Enhanced Protection Pointless
Obviously, if the victim of the alleged offense died, then these restrictions on the defendant would become moot. There's no point in a restraining order if there is no one to protect.
Some people argue that this means domestic violence defendants “get off easier” if they kill their victim. But obviously this is not the case, as they'd be facing criminal charges for murder or manslaughter rather than just assault.
Joseph D. Lento: Criminal Defense in Philadelphia
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer who represents people in Philadelphia who have been accused of domestic violence. Contact him online or call his law office at (215) 535-5353 if you have been accused of a crime and want to raise a vigorous defense against the charges.