People often call our office and say they have been charged with Domestic Violence. When we hear that, we always ask what the exact charges are because in Pennsylvania “Domestic Violence” is not an actual charge. It is a label that is applied to other offenses which can make the punishment more serious. The typical offenses that are charged in a “domestic violence” incident are Harassment, Simple Assault, Aggravated Assault, Reckless Endangerment, Strangulation, and Unlawful Restraint. What makes them domestic violence related is when these crimes occur where the victim is a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, domestic partner, child, or family member of the person accused of these crimes.
A charge labeled as domestic violence related is treated differently and more harshly by the law. The harsher treatment starts at the investigation stage. When a police officer investigates a crime and it is determined to be domestic violence related and they see any physical signs of injuries the police officer may and usually do take the defendant into custody. For example, if a person calls the police and says their husband hit them and they have a bruise or scratch, then the police officer most likely will take the defendant into custody right away and file charges before an in-depth Investigation is completed.
If you are charged with crimes that are designated as “domestic violence” the Magisterial District Judge who sets bail in your case can add conditions of bail preventing you from contacting your alleged victim or even preventing you from entering any residence the alleged victim lives in, even if you pay for that residence. For example, if a husband accused of assaulting his wife and they own a house together, a bail condition will likely be that the husband can’t go back to his own house.
If you are ultimately convicted of a domestic violence related offense you can be sentencing to a period of probation up through a state prison sentence depending on the offense you are convicted of. You will also be required to participate in domestic violence related counseling. Failure to complete that counseling can be the basis for a revocation of your supervision. There are also collateral consequences if you are convicted of a domestic violence related offense. If a person is convicted of domestic violence, they lose their right to possess a firearm forever. It could even cost a person their professional license or security clearance.