Domestic violence is unique in that it is not considered a separate crime (or charge) but can be charged as different offenses under Pennsylvania law depending on the acts alleged. Under the Pennsylvania statute, domestic violence involves the use of intimidation, threats of violence, or actual physical violence against a family member. This definition also includes violence or threats of violence directed toward former spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, significant others, children, or parents.

The penalties for domestic violence convictions in Pennsylvania can be severe and range from required anger management classes to felony charges and incarceration. Domestic violence charges may be prosecuted as felonies or as misdemeanors, depending on the severity of the alleged abuse, the number of offenses, and whether or not the defendant exhibited a pattern of harmful conduct.

Charges Commonly Associated with Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, domestic violence is not prosecuted as its own separate charge. However, the following charges are usually associated with domestic violence in Pennsylvania:

  • Child abuse
  • Violation of probation
  • Stalking
  • Criminal trespass
  • Domestic assault
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual assault

Available Remedies in Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Cases

In addition to filing criminal charges against a defendant, an alleged domestic violence victim may also file a protective order or a restraining order against the defendant. A protective order – which is a binding court order that is signed by a judge – restricts a defendant’s activities vis-à-vis the alleged victim.

For example, the defendant may be ordered to stay away from the alleged victim’s residence or place of business and may also be ordered to stay away from the minor children during the pendency of the protective order. If the defendant violates the protective order, a judge could find the defendant in contempt and impose further sanctions and penalties.

In addition to filing for a protective order, an alleged victim could also file a civil lawsuit against the defendant, seeking monetary damages. In most civil lawsuits, plaintiffs seek compensation for medical bills, as well as for past, present, and future pain and suffering.

Finally, an alleged victim may move for modification of a custody or child support order. For example, if, pursuant to a custody order, the domestic violence defendant is entitled to regular visitation with the minor children, the alleged victim may file a motion with the court to modify the custody order, restricting the defendant’s visitation rights.

Common Defenses Raised in Pennsylvania Domestic Violence Cases

Charges that suggest domestic violence are very serious and can result in harsh penalties being imposed against a criminal defendant. Fortunately, however, several defenses are available to defendants who have been charged with a crime of domestic violence. Some of these defenses include the following:

  • Lack of knowledge on the defendant’s part
  • Lack of criminal intent on the defendant’s part
  • Lack of violence on the defendant’s part
  • Insanity
  • Provocation
  • Intoxication
  • Self-defense

If you have been charged with a domestic violence crime, a Philadelphia criminal defense attorney can be very helpful to you by reviewing the facts and circumstances of your case with you, gathering the necessary evidence, and formulating defenses.

Call a Philadelphia Criminal Defense Lawyer for Help with Your Case

Domestic violence allegations should be taken very seriously as they can have a significant impact on many aspects of your life. A conviction can affect your familial relationships, job prospects, finances, and even your freedom. At The Zeiger Firm, we know how important it is to protect your rights and obtain the best possible resolution of your case. Call our office as soon as possible at 215-546-0340.


Brian J. Zeiger, Esquire, is an experienced and successful criminal defense and civil rights attorney. He is a seasoned trial lawyer with significant experience before juries and judges. Brian understands civil rights cases, including Taser, Wrongful Death, Excessive Force, Police Brutality, Police Misconduct, Malicious Prosecution, Monell Claims, Sexual Assault, Prisoner’s Rights, Time Credit, Medical Malpractice, and Medical Indifference.