Domestic violence case are often extremely difficult to navigate, primarily because there is usually a lack of evidence and the charges are based off nothing more than the word of an alleged victim. While nobody wants to see perpetrators get away with their actions and victims not receive the justice they deserve, laws and general public attitude towards these accusations are generally not friendly to those who stand accused. In fact, even those who are never actually convicted and are completely innocent of the crime can have their reputation tarnished and their lives ruined as a result.
While some might argue that the threat of such strong repercussions is a viable deterrent to would-be abusers, this stance has also created another unfortunate consequence: wrongful accusations from nefarious or malicious individuals are also on the rise. There are those who know that a convincing lie can result in a world of trouble for someone they are in a disagreement with or who they simply want to get an advantage over (which is why so many of these false accusations usually occur immediately before or during divorce or separation legal proceedings).
If you find yourself facing false charges of domestic violence, it’s important to learn what Pennsylvania’s laws have to say about the matter so you can develop an effective defense. On this blog, we’ll discuss these laws and what prosecutors need to be able to demonstrate to warrant a conviction so you can work to fight against these requirements.
Not Your Typical Assault Charges
The crime of domestic violence includes knowingly and willingly causing bodily injury to, causing fear or bodily injury, assaulting (sexually or otherwise), raping, or knowingly engaging in repetitive conduct towards someone eels that makes them fear bodily injury (i.e. stalking). Domestic violence charges are classified under the same umbrella of criminal actions as assault, aggravated assault, or battery in the state of Pennsylvania. However, there’s a distinct difference: when police receive a call regarding reports of assault or battery, they go to the scene and then determine whether or not to make arrests and hand over the case to prosecutors. In domestic violence cases, they don’t have the option of declining to make arrests; they are required to do so.
Furthermore, the alleged victim of the abuse may not choose to drop the charges; the prosecutor is the only person with that authority and may choose to continue to pursue the charges, even if they are against the will of the victim.
Defenses to Domestic Violence
While prosecutors will often seek to demonstrate domestic violence occurred and obtain a conviction, there are ways defendants can fight back. While some of these defenses may not necessarily warrant your charges being excused, they have led to lighter sentences and even occasionally led to charges being dropped in the past.
Lack of Knowledge
If a defendant does not realize their conduct is causing such fear of bodily harm to someone else, they may not necessarily be found guilty of domestic violence. This is often the case with stalking charges, where someone who isn’t necessarily of the soundest mind doesn’t realize that their actions are actually harassing and threatening their target.
Similarly, defendants who don’t know that what they’re doing is wrong and don’t have the mental capacity to make that determination could be considered insane. This may not get them off the hook from all consequences, but it could help them avoid having a conviction on their record.
Causing physical harm or violence to someone in an effort to defend your own life or well-being is not against the law, and could lead to your charges being dropped. Let’s look at an example: a couple who lives together is in a heated argument and person A pulls out a weapon and threatens person B with it until they concede to their demands. Fearing that they’re actually in physical danger from an irrational and unreasonable roommate, person B responds quickly and punches person A straight across the face, causing them to drop the weapon while also causing a broken nose and immense bruising.
In this instance, person B would not be found guilty of domestic violence because they were acting in a reasonable manner of self-defense when they believed their life was at stake.