Jail sentences for violence against domestic partners in Pennsylvania depend on the crime committed. For example, a first-degree misdemeanor stalking conviction could result in up to five years of imprisonment, while a second-degree felony strangulation conviction could result in up to ten. Judges also have the authority to impose fines, stay-away orders, and other penalties during sentencing.
In this article, the Philadelphia violent crimes defense lawyers at Shuttleworth Law PC discusses jail and prison sentences for domestic violence in Pennsylvania, conviction rates for sexual assault and aggravated assault crimes, the benefits of hiring legal representation, and who you might want to contact about getting legal advice.
Maximum Prison Sentences for Domestic Violence Crimes
Acts of domestic violence are against the law in Pennsylvania. However, no specific criminal statute punishes “domestic violence” as a standalone crime. Criminal statutes are state laws that define a crime, determine if it is a felony or misdemeanor, and address other relevant issues.
In the case of domestic violence matters, the Commonwealth charges people under already-existing criminal statutes but may apply prison sentencing enhancements if the act involves a current or former family member or partner. For instance, if prosecutors are saying that you falsely imprisoned your ex, you will not face domestic violence charges. Instead, you will be arrested and charged under false imprisonment statutes.
Below, we have outlined criminal charges that someone could face in a domestic violence case (with relevant statute indicated in parentheses):
Aggravated Assault (18 Pa.C.S. § 2702) is a first-degree felony, carrying up to 20 years in prison. However, a simple assault can turn into an aggravated assault as a second-degree felony if the victim was under the age of 13 and you are 18 or older, or if the victim is a civil employee acting within the scope of duty, including up to ten years imprisonment.
False Imprisonment (18 Pa.C.S. § 2903) is a second-degree misdemeanor, carrying prison sentences of up to two years. However, if the alleged victim is under 18, the grading increases to a second-degree felony, resulting in up to 10 years of prison.
Indecent Assault (18 Pa.C.S. § 3126) is a second-degree misdemeanor, which could result in up to two years imprisonment. However, it could be a first-degree misdemeanor if it is a second offense or involves certain acts of sexual assault, carrying up to five years in prison.
Simple Assault (18 Pa.C.S. § 2701) is a second-degree misdemeanor, carrying prison sentences of up to two years. It would become a first-degree misdemeanor charge if the alleged act was against a victim aged 12 or younger by someone 18 or older, resulting in up to five years imprisonment.
Sexual Assault (18 Pa.C.S. § 3124.1) is a second-degree felony, carrying up to ten years in prison if convicted.
Stalking (18 Pa.C.S. § 2709.1) is a third-degree felony, carrying up to seven years in prison if convicted.
Strangulation (18 Pa.C.S. § 2718) is a second-degree felony, carrying up to ten years of prison time for a conviction. This type of charge could increase to a first-degree felony if you are subject to an active Protection from Abuse (PFA) order, which could carry up to 20 years of imprisonment.
Related Article: What is a Felony in Pennsylvania?
Domestic Violence Conviction Rates
In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice released a special report on processing domestic violence cases. While the study focused on the conviction rates of domestic violence vs. non-domestic violence offenses, it revealed conviction rates for specific crimes.
The report indicated that domestic violence defendants had a:
- Higher felony sexual assault conviction rate of 80 percent vs. 63 percent
- Longer average incarceration sentence of six years vs. 3.25
- Higher felony aggravated conviction rate of 61 percent versus 52 percent
- Higher misdemeanor aggravated assault conviction rate of 22 percent versus 16 percent
There’s no evidence that the higher stakes for domestic violence cases has let up since the DOJ’s report. As you can see, states treat domestic violence-related crimes more seriously than those that do not involve family members or partners. Courts were also less likely to approve pre-trial release for aggravated domestic violence assault charges and issued a PFA order while awaiting trial if they did allow it.
Related Article: What Is the Penalty for Sexual Assault in PA?
Benefits of Hiring a Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer
Because of higher conviction rates, hiring a Philadelphia domestic violence defense lawyer is a worthy cause. Lawyers have the training, experience, and resources that can challenge the prosecutor’s or your accuser’s allegations. For example, suppose you face assault charges but there is no evidence indicating your physical involvement other than victim testimony. In that case, your attorney will raise this issue and press it, along with several strategies that poke holes in the prosecutor’s theories.
Here are a few more advantages of hiring a domestic violence defense lawyer for representation:
- Benefit 1. Defend Against Jail or Prison Time: Your attorney knows you want to avoid as many penalties as possible. We constantly work on your case to get it dropped, dismissed, reduced, or beaten at trial. You could avoid prison time altogether if you have a highly defensible case.
- Benefit 2. Considerate PFA Orders: Pennsylvania issues PFA Orders without considering your side of the story. At the first PFA hearing, your attorney can attend the hearing with you to ensure that the judge takes your wishes and defenses into account.
- Benefit 3. Appropriate Custody Terms: The PFA Order could affect how often you see your children. Collaborating with a lawyer helps you communicate to the court how a specific decision may not be in the child’s best interests.
Your attorney will also make the process as efficient as possible for you. This advantage allows you to return to “normal” as soon as possible.
Related Article: How Do You Defend Against a PFA in PA?
Discuss Domestic Charges During a Free Consultation
You deserve answers to your questions when facing domestic violence charges and potential prison or jail time in Pennsylvania. The domestic violence attorneys at Shuttleworth Law PC have more than 18 years of courtroom experience going to bat for people who should be walking free. Let us put the full weight of our firm behind your case, too.
Find out more about how our Philadelphia-based legal team can help during your Free Consultation by calling Shuttleworth Law PC at (215) 774-1371 or messaging us online. We are ready to explain your rights and give you a sense of direction on how to get started on your defense.