Domestic violence assault is unfortunately very common in Pennsylvania. The Protection From Abuse act was passed to help victims of domestic violence seek legal protection from their abusers and curb the rising tide of domestic abuse in the state. This act has helped establish state-wide services that anyone can access, even if they have no legal experience. It's important to know how Pennsylvania's Protection From Abuse services can help you if you feel you are a victim of domestic abuse. It's also good to know how these systems work if you are accused of committing domestic violence against someone else.
Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, domestic violence refers to any violence or abuse that comes from a member of the same household. Note that two people don't have to be living together for domestic violence to occur between them. A household member is any immediate or extended family, current or former spouses or sexual partners, or someone the victim has a child with. These groups are specifically covered by the Protection From Abuse act.
The Protection From Abuse act also covers several forms of domestic violence, including:
- Bodily injury or harm, battery
- Direct threats or fear of bodily injury or harm
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Stalking and harassment
- False imprisonment
- Involuntary manslaughter
- Reckless endangerment
Is Simple Assault the Same as Domestic Violence in Pennsylvania?
Under Pennsylvania law (18 Pa.C.S.A. § 2701), simple assault is:
- An attempt to cause intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another
- Negligently causing bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon
- Physically threatening another with imminent serious bodily injury
- Concealing or attempting to conceal a hypodermic needle and intentionally or knowingly penetrating a law enforcement officer or employee of a correctional institution, county jail or prison, detention facility, or mental hospital with it during an arrest or search.
Simple assault is considered a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 and up to two years in prison. The only instances when simple assault is not considered a second-degree misdemeanor is when:
- The assault happened during a fight or scuffle entered into by mutual consent (in this case it's a third-degree misdemeanor)
- Someone 18 or older commits simple assault against a child aged 12 or under (in this case it's a first-degree misdemeanor)
Pennsylvania does not have separate criminal statutes covering domestic violence, so someone cannot be charged with simple assault and domestic violence. They would be charged with simple assault and if it's committed against a household member, it may carry harsher penalties.
When simple assault is also considered domestic violence, a police officer can make an arrest without a warrant. The officer doesn't need to have witnessed the assault to make the arrest. All the police officer needs are the report of assault and corroborative evidence that it happened.
Protection from Domestic Violence Assault in Pennsylvania
To help victims of domestic violence seek protection, Pennsylvania allows them to apply for Protection From Abuse orders, or PFAs. A PFA is similar to a restraining order, but it's specifically for domestic violence cases. Only household members can get PFAs against each other; you can't request a PFA against your coworker (unless they also happen to meet the definition of your household member). A PFA legally prohibits one person (the respondent) from contacting or going near another (the plaintiff). The respondent may not go within proximity of the plaintiff's home, work, or school, and must also surrender firearms to the local police station.
How to Request a PFA
You can go to your county courthouse and fill out a request form if you are over 18 years of age. If you are younger than 18, an adult must fill out the form for you. A judge will review your request and if it's granted, a law enforcement officer will deliver the PFA to the respondent and it takes effect immediately. Usually, there is a hearing 10 days later to determine if the PFA will become final or if it will be dismissed.
Getting Served with a PFA in Pennsylvania
If you have a PFA against you, you will know when a law enforcement officer serves the papers to you in person. At that time, you will have to vacate your residence if you share it with the plaintiff. You may also not be able to see your children, even if you have custodial rights already. When you get served with a PFA, you should make every effort to follow the restrictions that are listed. You should also warn friends and family not to contact the plaintiff on your behalf, as it could be considered third-party contact, which is a PFA violation.
What Happens What a PFA Is Violated?
A PFA is not a criminal matter. If you have been served with a PFA, you are not charged with a crime. However, if you violate the terms of the PFA by contacting the plaintiff, you could be arrested and charged with criminal contempt of court. This is a crime which carries a punishment of up to six months in jail and fines between $300 and $1,000.
It's important to note that if you receive a PFA based on assault, you may be facing a PFA case and a criminal case for simple assault at the same time. As one is civil and the other is criminal, these two cases would operate independently of each other. A PFA case can result in a final PFA, which lasts up to three years, and a simple assault case can lead to fines and jail time.
Contact a Qualified Family Law Attorney
Domestic violence is a serious matter that affects people all over Pennsylvania. The state has made PFAs available in all counties, but if you're unfamiliar with the Protection From Abuse Act or how PFAs work, you may hesitate to request one. If you are the one served with a PFA, you may also not know the best way to handle your situation. A family law attorney with experience dealing with PFAs and domestic violence issues can help you understand what your next steps are. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm today by calling 888-535-3686 so we can answer your questions about PFAs.