DOMESTIC VIOLENCE & ABUSE DEFENSE ATTORNEY
When you need a lawyer to represent you for a domestic violence, domestic abuse, or Protection from Abuse (PFA) matter, contact a criminal attorney from the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania criminal defense firm of The Zeiger Firm. Our attorneys understand that domestic abuse and domestic violence cases involve both criminal and civil courts, and we will zealously represent you if you are charged with abuse and other domestic crimes.
There are frequently allegations of assault, battery, and false imprisonment; in addition, domestic violence claims may also involve weapons such as guns. That is why you need an attorney who understands the various charges and how to deal with them. Whether you are a person seeking protection from domestic abuse, or you have been charged with domestic violence, it is crucial to know your rights and to hire an attorney who will fight as hard for you as the prosecutor or opposing attorney will battle against you.
At The Zeiger Firm, we regularly defend clients against allegations of domestic abuse, including a variety of criminal charges. We can handle any accompanying civil proceedings to help limit the effect of a domestic violence charge on your life. We understand that domestic violence carries social and professional consequences as well as possible criminal penalties. Our skilled defense attorneys seek to mitigate all of the consequences of
Domestic Violence Defined
Contrary to what many people believe, Pennsylvania law does not set out a separate criminal charge of “domestic violence.” Instead, defendants face criminal charges that may have additional consequences due to a preexisting relationship between the defendant and the alleged victim. When a criminal case is categorized as domestic violence, there may be accompanying civil cases and penalties in addition to the criminal proceedings. It is critical to have an attorney on your side who understands how to handle all aspects of a domestic violence case.
Under Pennsylvania law, domestic violence and abuse occur between family or household members. This can include the following:
- People who live or lived as spouses
- Any other family relation
- Intimate partners
- Former intimate partners
- Parents of the same child
- Family or household members may be related by blood, marriage, or neither in the case of intimate partners or parents of the same child.
Domestic abuse can involve any of the following against the above family or household members:
- Causing someone to fear imminent injury
- Attempting to cause injury
- Recklessly or intentionally causing bodily injury
- Sexual assault
- Aggravated indecent assault
- Sexual or physical assault of children
- Engaging in conduct that repeatedly causes fear of injury
Abuse often involves a weapon but does not have to. In fact, it does not have to involve any actual harm as long as the alleged victim suffers reasonable fear of harm. However, the key word here is “reasonable,” as domestic abuse will not occur if another reasonable person would not actually fear injury under the same circumstances.
Anytime a crime is classified as domestic violence, the case can become substantially more complicated. The Zeiger Firm represents clients facing a variety of domestic violence charges and can assist with every aspect of a case.
Common Domestic Violence Charges in PA
As mentioned, there is not one catch-all charge of “domestic violence” in Pennsylvania. Instead, defendants face charges for different offenses depending on the allegations against them by family or household members. The following are some examples of underlying criminal charges you may face in a domestic violence or abuse case.
Assault – Assault can refer to many situations involving bodily injury or the threat of bodily injury to another person. For example, assault can include causing someone to fear imminent harm, negligently causing harm with a deadly weapon, or recklessly or intentionally causing harm to someone else. Many different domestic abuse situations may result in assault charges, including the following examples:
- You raise a bottle in the air and act like you are going to hit someone
- You are waving a gun around and it goes off and hits someone, even though you never meant to fire the gun
- You strike someone – no matter how slight
- You drive your car toward a family member in the driveway causing them to think you will hit them – even if you stop in time
Assault charges are very common in domestic abuse cases because of the wide array of acts that can constitute assault. Assault charges and penalties will vary depending on the specific allegations. For instance, simple assault is a misdemeanor offense while aggravated assault is a felony. All assault charges are serious, however, as even a misdemeanor assault conviction can mean up to two years in jail. Felony assault charges that involved serious bodily injury could result in up to 20 years in prison. You always need an experienced criminal defense lawyer if you have been arrested for any degree of assault.
Child abuse – People can face child abuse charges for a variety of acts, including physical or sexual assault of a child. In many cases, a parent may simply believe they are punishing a child within their rights – such as spanking – but then they find themselves facing serious domestic violence allegations. Child abuse can also involve causing serious mental injuries to a child. Furthermore, you may be accused of child abuse if you allow someone else to abuse your child – even if you never acted harmfully yourself. Child abuse can also involve sexual assault or molestation.
The charges and penalties for child abuse will depend on the circumstances of a case but they are always serious. Many people convicted of child abuse spend time in jail and experience many other collateral consequences, which we will discuss below.
Endangering the welfare of a child – Even if you do not actually physically assault your child, you can face criminal charges if you allow them to be put in danger of harm. Endangering the welfare of a child involves violating the duty of protection, care, and support that parents legally owe to their children. Many circumstances can result in this type of criminal allegation, including:
- Driving drunk with a child in the vehicle
- Not restraining a child in a vehicle
- Leaving a child in a hot car
- Not providing proper food and water
- Living with a child in unsanitary or unhealthy conditions
- Not seeking necessary medical care for a child
- Allowing a child to witness drug activity or other illegal conduct
- Supervising a child while under the influence of drugs
You can also be charged with child endangerment if you interfere with a report of child abuse or endangerment to the authorities. An isolated incident of child endangerment is a first-degree misdemeanor, which can mean a five-year prison sentence and costly fines. If a prosecutor proves that you have engaged in a pattern of behavior that regularly endangers a child, you can face felony charges and up to seven years behind bars.
Stalking – Stalking is a form of domestic violence that often occurs between ex-spouses or ex-intimate partners. Stalking involves engaging in repeated conduct that causes a person to fear imminent injury or experience substantial emotional distress. Stalking can involve physically following a person, sending them messages, or otherwise communicating with someone in a menacing manner. Stalking can be prosecuted as a first-degree misdemeanor or as a felony depending on the details of a case. In either situation, a conviction could result in jail time.
False imprisonment – Another form of domestic violence involves interfering with someone’s liberty. This can be done by physical restraining someone or by issuing threats that prevent someone from freely living their lives. This type of offense is common in overly controlling relationships – whether it is a romantic relationship or parental relationship.
While parents have the right to set rules for their children, they do not have the right to unlawfully restrain their children in a manner that interferes with their liberty. The following are the charges someone may face for false imprisonment:
- False imprisonment of another adult – second-degree misdemeanor
- False imprisonment of a minor – second-degree felony
If you have been accused of false imprisonment, you need experienced legal counsel as soon as possible.
Weapons charges – Some instances of domestic violence involve the use or threat of weapons. For this reason, the above charges may also be accompanied by a weapons charge. Such charges can include the unlawful possession of a weapon or the unlawful use of a weapon. Such weapons charges can carry additional penalties in addition to any underlying domestic abuse crimes and you need a defense attorney who is thoroughly familiar with Pennsylvania gun laws.
When you are charged with any of the above offenses, your future is at stake in many ways. However, the criminal penalties are not the only thing you may need to worry regarding domestic violence allegations.
Protection from Abuse Orders
Most criminal cases that are domestic in nature will be accompanied by a civil case in which the alleged abuse victim seeks a Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, which is similar to a restraining order. PFAs can be secured against current or former spouses or intimate partners, family or household members, or the other parent of a biological child – not against co-workers, strangers, or other individuals. PFAs are available for those who have suffered domestic physical assault, threats of harm, child abuse, stalking, false imprisonment, sexual violence, or intimidation.
When someone requests a PFA, the process will differ from county to county within Pennsylvania. You should always have an attorney assisting you who understands how to protect your rights in the specific court hearing your case. Generally, the petitioner will receive a temporary PFA order right away. However, you are allowed to appear at a court hearing to testify and contest a final order.
A long-term PFA order can affect your life in many ways. First, it may require you to move out of your home. You may not be able to travel to certain locations where you know the protected individual will be. If you work with the protected individual, you may have to switch jobs. You can be barred from seeing your children unsupervised. You may also be barred from possessing any weapons – even if you have a permit or license to do so – and your current firearms may be confiscated.
A judge will determine the specific terms of a PFA and length of the order on a case-by-case basis. Some orders can last up to three years and can have extremely restrictive terms. In some cases, you may agree to a PFA order but may want to reduce the restrictions set out in the order. Your attorney can negotiate the terms of a PFA out of court and you can avoid a hearing altogether. This allows you to have better control over the terms of an order and avoid having to admit any of the facts stipulated against you. Often, reaching an out-of-court agreement can be beneficial, however, action must be taken immediately.
Not only can a PFA order affect your family relationships and your freedom, but it also puts you at risk for future criminal charges. If you are accused of violating any terms of a PFA, you can face a new criminal case and up to six months in jail. Therefore, you want to be sure the terms of a PFA order are reasonable to avoid the possibility of a violation.
PFA order hearings differ significantly from criminal proceedings. The petitioner is not required to prove their allegations beyond a reasonable doubt and it is largely left to the judge to determine whether an order should be granted. It is critical for anyone facing a possible PFA order to have qualified legal representation to protect their rights and interests throughout this process.
The Consequences of Domestic Violence Convictions
Individuals who are convicted of crimes involving domestic violence are often subjected to serious criminal penalties. Violent offenders often face mandatory jail time, significant fines, probation, and mandatory counseling. These kinds of consequences can be extremely disruptive and may lead to secondary issues like job loss, financial problems, and even eviction or repossession of your home.
While these court-ordered penalties are by themselves serious and undesirable, the fact that a domestic violence conviction becomes part of the public record can result in even more significant and longer-term consequences. The fact that you have been convicted of a violent crime can affect many aspects of your life, often years after your sentence has concluded and the case has been closed. In many instances, these issues arise in ways that you may never have foreseen at the time of your conviction, making it possible for an incident in your past to completely change the trajectory of your life. Here are some of the specific areas in which domestic violence conviction can affect your future:
- Employment – According to job-seeking website Careerbuilder, 72 percent of employers conduct a background check on every potential new hire. Many employers may have serious concerns about hiring an applicant who has a criminal history involving violence and may go with another candidate rather than take a risk on an applicant who has been convicted of domestic violence. In fact, some domestic violence convictions may actually completely bar you from employment in certain fields like education, healthcare, or other caretaking fields.
- Housing – Landlords have an interest in ensuring that their tenants will be responsible, trustworthy, and will not engage in illegal activity. As a result, they often request that prospective tenants submit to a criminal background check prior to renting to them. Not surprisingly, landlords often are hesitant to rent to people with a history of domestic violence, as there is a chance that such violence could occur on their property.
- Professional Licensure – If you have any plans to go into a regulated profession such as law, medicine, nursing, or education, you will need to pass a thorough background check and potentially explain any legal problems you have had in your past. In some cases, a history of domestic violence may make it more difficult for you to obtain a professional license. At a minimum, you will need to disclose embarrassing details about your past to a licensing board made up of complete strangers.
Importantly, issues regarding domestic violence can have a significant impact on any family law proceedings to which you are a party. For example, if you are involved in a child custody dispute, the court must consider convictions related to domestic violence when making a decision. In fact, the court can consider evidence of abusive behavior even in the absence of a conviction. In many cases, if you are accused of domestic violence, your child’s other parent may open a custody case to try to obtain full custody. In addition, domestic violence can result in the imposition of protective orders that can prevent you from going home, seeing your children, attending certain events, or having access to your possessions.
If you are accused of domestic violence involving your child, you may also be under investigation by the Child Welfare Services division of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. Findings of abuse or violence against children may result in your children being placed in foster care for a period of time or even the termination of your parental rights.
How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help in Your Case
If you have been accused of domestic violence, it is important to keep in mind that mere allegations do not necessarily result in a conviction. In many instances, domestic violence cases involve two varying accounts of a particular incident without any other evidence to consider. In addition, sometimes law enforcement officers simply make a snap decision as to who to arrest in an effort to diffuse the situation separate people from one another so they can cool down.
The reality is that most situations involving allegations of domestic violence involve complicated intra-personal dynamics in which both parties engaged in improper conduct. For this reason, there are often many ways in which a lawyer can help you if you have been accused of domestic violence. Some of the most important include the following:
- Represent You During any Questioning that May Occur – In many cases, involving domestic violence, law enforcement conducts after-the-fact investigation in order to determine what occurred. This type of questioning occurs can occur in an informal setting or “down at the station.” Wherever it occurs, it is important to remember that the things you say about a particular incident could result in criminal charges. Fortunately, when you retain an attorney, he or she will protect your rights during questioning and not allow the police to manipulate you into inadvertently confessing to a crime you did not commit.
- Determine Whether Self-Defense Applies – As mentioned above, domestic violence cases are often very complicated. If you can show that you were acting in self-defense during the incident at issue, it may result in your case being dropped by the prosecution or an acquittal at trial. Under Pennsylvania law, in order to claim self-defense, you must be able to show that you believed that the force used was immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting yourself against the use of unlawful force by such other person. Whether self-defense applies in a given case is often a complicated question and is very dependent on the facts.
- Negotiate a Plea Bargain with Favorable Terms – Many domestic violence cases are resolved through a process known as plea bargaining, in which the defendant agrees to plead guilty to a lesser charge or in return for the prosecutor recommending that the judge impose a lighter sentence. In some cases, a plea bargain may even involve participation in a Domestic Violence Diversion Program that can result in the case being expunged if successfully completed.
- Represent You in Trial – Some domestic violence cases are tried before a judge or a jury. When this occurs, the state will present evidence against you and may even call the alleged victim to the stand to testify against you. You will then have an opportunity to cast doubt on the state’s case and raise any additional facts that may justify or excuse your conduct. A criminal trial is a very complicated process, and defendants who choose to represent themselves are at a distinct disadvantage. When you retain an attorney, he or she will gather evidence in your favor, properly raise any legal defenses that apply, and argue your case in a way that maximizes your chances of obtaining a favorable outcome.
Contact a Philadelphia Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer Today
The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania domestic violence lawyers at The Zeiger Firm understand the laws, rules, and procedures necessary to represent clients involved with domestic abuse claims, and we fight in the family courts and the criminal courts to obtain the best results. We advocate zealously, never forgetting that our most important goal is obtaining the best results, whether that means fighting procedural battles or representing our clients before a judge or jury. We work hard for our clients, explaining their options and keeping them updated on the status of their cases.
Domestic violence cases often have many different components that can be difficult to juggle. A PFA hearing is often scheduled within days of the reported incident and you should be prepared to stand up for your rights. You should never wait to call our law firm to discuss the many ways we can assist you in your domestic violence or abuse case.
When you need a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania attorney to represent you in a Protection from Abuse or other domestic violence matter, contact The Zeiger Firm, who represent every client zealously in order to obtain the best results possible in each case. To arrange a consultation, please give us a call at 215-546-0340 or send us an email via the form below.