Bucks County Domestic Violence Defense Lawyer
Every crime is serious, but crimes involving domestic violence tend to be met with significant public backlash and outrage. Accusations of domestic violence can not only lead to your arrest, but the sullying of your character and reputation in the community. Penalties for convictions can be very severe, including harsh jail sentences. Being charged with domestic violence can be overwhelming, confusing, and make you feel like the system is working against you.
Domestic violence is not so much a specific offense as it is a category of offenses. Domestic violence is often a violent crime committed against a cohabitant, or someone who lives with you. Not only do the victim and defendant live together, but there is usually a romantic or familial relationship. Charges related to domestic violence often carry additional penalties and consequences, such as restraining orders and restrictions on gun rights. A domestic violence conviction could also be used against you in a subsequent civil matter, such as a divorce or child custody dispute.
At The Law Offices of Lloyd Long, our compassionate Bucks County domestic violence defense lawyers have years of experience fighting for those accused of domestic violence to have their side of the story told. We will leave no stone unturned as we work to protect your rights and get the charges against you downgraded or dismissed. For a free consultation, call our firm today at (215) 302-0171.
Definition of Domestic Violence in Bucks County
Domestic violence is not actually one, single charge in the state of Pennsylvania. Instead, many different charges could be classified as domestic violence. In fact, the charge does not even have to relate to actual, physical violence. Things such as harassment or inappropriate touching that are non-violent or sexual in nature can be classified as domestic violence under Pennsylvania law.
The common denominator amongst domestic violence charges is that the alleged victim shares some sort of close or special relationship with the accused. This could be a family relationship, such as a mother assaulting her child, a romantic relationship, such as abuse between two partners, or a relationship between cohabitants such as roommates. In certain situations, ex-partners and ex-roommates can be charged with domestic violence as well.
A domestic violence classification means that the case will be handled differently, and harsher penalties, such as higher fines and longer jail sentences, may apply if convicted. Some of the more common underlying charges that constitute domestic violence if they happen between certain people include the following:
- Aggravated assault
- Endangering the welfare of a child
- False imprisonment
- Reckless endangerment
- Sexual assault
- Simple assault
- Terroristic threats
If you have been charged with a domestic violence-related offense, reach out to our Bucks County domestic violence attorneys as soon as possible.
How a Domestic Violence Complaint is Handled in Bucks County
Police often handle domestic violence cases very delicately. Domestic disputes tend to be very volatile, and the police may or may not have adequate de-escalation training. However, if the situation turns violent or otherwise gets out of control, the police will not hesitate to act more forcefully. Similarly, courts and prosecutors are more careful with domestic violence cases. While they do not want to violate the defendant’s rights, they must also consider the safety of the alleged victim.
Arrest and Booking
In most other cases, a person is usually taken into custody under an arrest warrant. The warrant must be based on sufficient probable cause connecting the suspect to the crime and issued by a judge or a magistrate. A person may be arrested without a warrant if the arresting officer actually witnesses the suspect committing the crime or sees them flee the scene shortly after. Domestic violence cases are somewhat different, as police often do not need warrants and do not need to witness the violence to make an arrest.
According to § 2711(a) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, the police have the power to arrest a domestic violence suspect without a warrant as long as they have probable cause to believe an act of domestic violence just occurred. The officer does not have to have witnessed the crime to make the arrest either.
This places defendants at a disadvantage. Courts and police give a lot of weight to the word of alleged victims. If your partner claims you abused them, the police will be more inclined to arrest you whether or not it is true. Contact our Bucks County domestic violence lawyers for help if you have been arrested.
After your arrest, you will be taken to the local police station to undergo the booking process. This process includes the police fingerprinting you, photographing you, collecting your biographical information, and taking an inventory of any items you had on your person at the time of your arrest. When booking is complete, you will be taken to a holding cell in the station or the local detention center until you can appear before a judge for a preliminary arraignment, which must occur within 72 hours.
Most of the time, the preliminary arraignment also serves as a bail hearing where the judge will decide if you can be released and at what amount bail should be set. These hearings often occur over a videoconferencing system where you are conferenced into the courtroom to face the judge. There is no guarantee to an attorney at this hearing, but it is smart to have one. Our Bucks County domestic violence defense attorneys can work to get you the lowest bail possible for your case.
There are multiple ways the judge can decide to handle your bail. They may decide to release you on your own recognizance, or without bail. This is more likely for lower-level crimes and defendants with no criminal history. Domestic violence defendants are not usually released on their own recognizance because the courts want to protect victims from further abuse.
As noted above, they can also choose to hold you in jail until the matter is resolved for serious crimes where you may be a threat to the public. The typical route, however, is for the judge to issue bail based on state guidelines and their consideration of factors such as your prior criminal history, the nature and severity of the crime alleged, your ties to the community, your potential danger to the public, and whether you might be a flight risk.
Our Bucks County domestic violence defense lawyers can review your case for any mitigating factors that can be used during your bail hearing to reduce your bail.
Arraignment and Preliminary Hearing
Depending on your charges, your next hearing will either be a preliminary hearing or an arraignment. While defendants charged with misdemeanors or felonies will have an arraignment, only felony defendants will have a preliminary hearing. There is a good chance you will go through a preliminary hearing, considering the severe nature of most domestic violence charges.
The preliminary hearing comes before the arrangement. At a preliminary hearing, the prosecutor is tasked with presenting enough evidence to warrant holding the defendant over for trial. The prosecutor does not have to prove you are guilty at this phase. Instead, they must demonstrate that enough evidence exists making it more likely than not you committed the crime. If they fail to meet this burden, we can request the charges against you be dismissed. This stage is crucial because if the prosecutor cannot gather enough evidence to support your domestic violence charges, there will be no trial.
The arraignment comes after the preliminary hearing for felonies. For misdemeanors, the arraignment occurs without a preliminary hearing. At the arraignment, the defendant is formally notified of the charges against them and permitted to enter a plea. You can enter a plea of guilty, not guilty, or no contest. Speak with our Bucks County domestic violence attorneys about what plea is right for you.
Restraining or Protective Orders for Domestic Violence Cases in Bucks County
As part of a domestic violence case, a judge may impose a protective order. This order will keep you away from your partner for the duration of the trial. It may even stop you from having any contact with your partner, including phone calls, text messages, and emails. Depending on how your case turns out, a protective order may become permanent as part of a final sentence.
After proceedings have been initiated against you, the court may impose a temporary order of protection. This order keeps you away from the alleged victim, but only lasts until your trial is over. It may feel unfair to be subjected to such a court order before you have even had a fair trial, but courts have a great interest in keeping victims safe.
If you live with your partner when a protective order is imposed, you may have to vacate your residence and find somewhere else to live. Exactly who has to move may depend on multiple factors, such as who owns the property or whose name is on the lease. However, in many cases, the defendant is forced to move out. This creates a serious problem because you have to find housing on top of fighting criminal charges.
If you share children with the alleged victim and are legally obligated to support them, the victim may include support payments as a condition of the restraining or protective order. Failing to make these payments while also staying away from the alleged victim and your children will be considered a violation. You could be arrested and face additional penalties.
However, protective orders can be lifted if they are overly burdensome or no longer necessary. The quickest way to lift a protective order is to reconcile with your partner. A reconciliation would make the order unnecessary and the court will likely have it lifted. Our Bucks County domestic violence lawyers can help you resolve a protective order quickly so you can get your life back.
Penalties for Violating Protective or Restraining Orders in Bucks County
Protective and restraining orders serve to protect victims from their alleged abusers. In many domestic violence cases, these orders are issued at the start of proceedings and last until the end of your trial. If you are convicted, a permanent protective order may be instated as part of your final sentence. In either situation, a violation of the order will result in additional criminal penalties.
First, if there is a substantive offense connected to your restraining order violation, you will be penalized for that offense. For example, if a defendant violates a restraining order by beating up their partner, they will be penalized for violating the order and assaulting their partner.
Violating the order, in addition to any substantive offense, may be met with contempt charges. Disobeying the orders of the court is an offense itself and may be met with additional punishments. Not only that, but a court could revoke your pretrial release, meaning you will not be released after being re-arrested for violating the protective order.
For help dealing with your domestic violence charges and any protective or restraining orders imposed against you, call our Bucks County domestic violence defense attorneys.
Plea Bargaining and Trials in Bucks County Domestic Violence Cases
Once you have been formally arraigned and we know the charges we are facing, we can begin negotiating a plea agreement. A plea agreement is like a bargain between the prosecutor and the defendant. The prosecutor will reduce your charges or recommend a lighter penalty. In exchange, you will agree to enter a guilty plea and waive your right to a trial. Plea agreements are not mandatory and if you do not want to accept one, you do not have to. Our Bucks County domestic violence defense lawyer can help you negotiate the best possible plea agreement.
For those without an extensive criminal history who are facing low-level charges, we can try to get you into a pretrial diversion program. If you complete the requirements of this program and stay out of trouble, your charges may be dropped. If pretrial diversion is not a possibility, we will work to get the prosecutor to downgrade the charges or recommend a more lenient sentence in exchange for your guilty plea. Be aware, however, that in domestic violence cases the prosecutor will often not make any deals without consulting with the alleged victim. If no deal can be reached, we are ready and able to defend your innocence at trial.
Divorces After Domestic Violence Convictions in Bucks County
Call Our Experienced Bucks County Domestic Violence Defense Lawyers Today
Domestic disputes can be complicated. People sometimes make false accusations out of anger or jealousy. Unfortunately, these false accusations can lead to very real consequences. At The Law Offices of Lloyd Long, our Bucks County domestic violence defense lawyers have many years of experience successfully fighting on behalf of our clients charged with domestic violence. We will work to get you out of jail as quickly as possible and to bring your case to a satisfactory resolution. Call us today at (215) 302-0171 for a free consultation.