While the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not have any specific charges deemed domestic violence, the crimes are charged under the assault statutes. However, under Part VII Chapters 61-63 of the statutes, there is a specific definition of what constitutes family abuse, which most states refer to as domestic violence. Specifically, the statute provides the following definition: ““Family or household members.” Spouses or persons who have been spouses, persons living as spouses or who lived as spouses, parents and children, other persons related by consanguinity or affinity, current or former sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood.”
Domestic Violence Charges
In the event that any family member contacts a law enforcement officer and states they have been a victim of any crime that could be considered domestic violence, the officer is required to make an arrest under the law. This would apply to any family member who makes an accusation of bodily injury, assault, rape or the fear of bodily injury perpetrated by another family member. In addition, once this complaint has been lodged, the determination of whether or not to press charges lies entirely with the prosecutor; the victim has no option to have the charges dismissed. Some of the charges you could potentially face if you are charged with domestic violence include:
- Assault charges – Simple or aggravated assault
- Stalking charges – When someone feels you are constantly watching them
- Homicide – If the life of a family member is taken at someone’s hand
- Endangerment – Behaving in manner that recklessly endangers a family member
Are There Defenses?
Like any other Pennsylvania assault charges, there are defenses to charges of domestic violence including self-defense, provocation or proving no crime actually occurred. It is important to understand that oftentimes, a relationship gone badly can result in retaliatory behavior including an accusation of domestic violence.
Domestic Violence Penalties
Depending on the level of crime and previous history with the victim the courts may elect to issue a restraining order, which is known as a domestic abuse prevention order. The defendant could be required to take anger management courses, get psychiatric assistance or depending on the severity of charges, could face a misdemeanor or felony criminal charges. If facing misdemeanor or felony charges the penalties could be:
- Misdemeanor charges – When a child is involved, the defendant could face first degree misdemeanor charges which could result in up to five years in prison as well as fines issued at the discretion of the court. If there is a mutual battering of two persons, the charge could be considered a second degree misdemeanor with court-ordered fines and up to one year in prison.
- Felony charges – Anytime a domestic violence rises to the degree of a felony, the defendant could face between 10 and 20 years in jail as well as fines determined by the courts. In addition, if there is a conviction, the defendant will have a life-long record as a violent felony offender.
In the event there is any kind of conviction for domestic violence charge, the defendant will lose their rights to carry a firearm. If there is an accusation of any type of sexual assault, the defendant who is found guilty may also have to register as a sex offender which could have serious implications on their future including where they may be allowed to live and where they may be allowed to work.
Because the charges of any kind of domestic violence are so serious and the victim cannot “change their minds” about filing charges, it is imperative that you contact a Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible after your arrest. You must work closely with an attorney to mount a strong defense to ensure you do not suffer the long-term consequences of a conviction for a domestic abuse charge.