Domestic abuse is a serious problem. Unfortunately, many spouses and family members are victims of domestic violence. Pennsylvania law helps victims of domestic violence by offering them several options, including obtaining a restraining order or protection from abuse order.
However, some accusations of domestic violence stem from false allegations. A person can face domestic violence charges because their spouse wants an advantage in a divorce case or seeks full custody of a child. A conviction for domestic violence charges could result in several years in jail.
A Chester County criminal defense attorney can help you fight domestic violence allegations. A strong defense strategy is the best way to protect yourself from being convicted and having a criminal record.
Before discussing potential defenses against domestic violence charges, it helps if you understand how Pennsylvania law defines domestic violence.
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What is Considered Domestic Violence Under Pennsylvania Law?
Pennsylvania statutes do not define the crime of “domestic violence.” Instead, you can be charged with domestic violence if you commit certain crimes against someone you are involved within a domestic relationship.
A domestic relationship is someone who is:
- Your family member
- A member of your household, including roommates
- A sexual or romantic partner
- A former or current dating partner
- Your child’s other biological parent
The police may charge you with domestic violence if you commit any of the following offenses against one of the above individuals:
- Any sex crime, including rape and sexual assault
- Simple or aggravated assault
- Sexual abuse of minor children or child abuse
- False imprisonment
- Reckless endangerment
- Terroristic threats
- Involuntary manslaughter
You can also be charged with domestic violence if you intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly cause or attempt to cause bodily injury. You do not actually need to cause bodily injury to commit domestic violence. The police may charge you with domestic violence if you commit any act that causes a person to have a reasonable fear of imminent bodily injury.
What Are the Penalties for a Domestic Violence Conviction in Chester County, Pennsylvania?
The underlying crime, your criminal history, and the circumstances determine whether you face a felony or misdemeanor charge. Domestic violence charges range from a summary offense and a third-degree misdemeanor to a second-degree felony.
Judges use the Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines to determine the basic penalties for domestic violence.
For a third-degree misdemeanor domestic violence conviction, you pay a fine of up to $5,000 and spend 90 days in jail. Your jail time increases to two years for a second-degree misdemeanor conviction. Felony domestic violence convictions can result in up to ten years in prison and $25,000 in fines.
How Can a Chester County Domestic Violence Lawyer Help Me?
Never assume that the judge will go easy on you if this is your first domestic violence offense. Prosecutors aggressively pursue domestic violence charges, and judges treat convictions seriously. Therefore, your best defense is to hire an experienced domestic violence attorney in Chester County.
An attorney will help you defend yourself against domestic violence charges by:
- Listening to your side of the story to determine what happened that led to the criminal charges
- Ensure you understand your legal options, your rights, and the impact of a conviction for domestic violence
- Investigate the arrest to identify police misconduct, errors, or violations of your civil rights
- Interview witnesses and gather evidence regarding your relationship and history with the alleged victim
- Analyze the prosecution’s case against you to determine whether they have sufficient evidence to prove each legal element of the crime
- Exploit weaknesses in the state’s case during plea negotiations
- Advocate for you by arguing against severe restrictions in a restraining order
- Aggressively defend you against the charges in court
Hiring a criminal defense lawyer gives you an advantage. The prosecutor cannot quickly close the case by intimidating you into accepting a plea agreement. Your lawyer forces the prosecutor to do their job: to prove you are guilty of domestic violence charges beyond a reasonable doubt.
An experienced attorney will develop a defense strategy based on the evidence and the facts of the case. One or more valid legal defenses could lead to an acquittal or dismissal of the charges.
What Are Some Potential Defenses to Domestic Violence Charges in Chester County, PA?
The circumstances surrounding domestic violence charges can be interpreted in many different ways. The alleged victim’s version of events may vary significantly from what witnesses and the accused remember. Your lawyer will explore various defenses to your domestic violence charges including, but not limited to:
Unfortunately, some individuals claim they are victims of domestic violence because they want an advantage in a family court action. For example, an ex-dating partner might be jealous of your new relationship or want revenge for a terrible breakup.
False domestic violence allegations can ruin your reputation, result in criminal penalties, and cause numerous collateral consequences. Furthermore, false allegations undermine the actual cases of domestic violence that should be prosecuted.
Self-Defense and Defense of Others
You might be guilty of the underlying criminal charges that resulted in domestic violence allegations. However, if you were defending yourself or another person, the court might find that you are not guilty of the criminal charges according to self-defense laws.
Violation of Your Civil Rights
A defense might rest upon police errors and misconduct.
Examples of reasons why your attorney might file a motion to dismiss or suppress evidence could include:
- Illegal searches and seizures
- Lack of probable cause
- Coerced confessions
- Illegally obtained statements
If the police officers or other law enforcement officials violate your constitutional rights, the court may dismiss the domestic violence charges.
Providing an alibi for the time of the alleged offense can be an efficient defense for false allegations of domestic violence. Your attorney will interview witnesses. They will also search for video evidence or photos that place you at another location.
Lack of Evidence Proving the Elements of the Crime
The state must prove that you committed the criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt. It has the burden of providing evidence to prove each of the legal elements of the underlying crime.
Your lawyer may challenge the evidence presented in court by cross-examining witnesses. They may provide evidence that refutes the state’s evidence. Additionally, they could provide the jurors with an alternative explanation for the evidence.
Contact a Chester County Criminal Defense Lawyer if You’ve Been Accused of Domestic Violence
Being accused of domestic violence is a serious criminal matter. The police and the prosecutor already believe you are guilty, so they will do nothing to help you prove your innocence. You need an experienced domestic violence attorney to help you fight the criminal charges. Call a Chester County criminal defense lawyer at (610) 430-3535 or complete the intake form to schedule a free consultation to discuss your situation and protect your legal rights.