Understanding Pennsylvania’s Enhanced Domestic Violence Law: A Simplified Breakdown
Recent Legal Changes in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has taken a bold step to strengthen its approach against domestic violence. Lawmakers have revised the legal repercussions for strangulation, especially when it involves a family member or intimate partner. Before this legislative update, choking incidents causing no bodily harm were treated as a less serious offense, often resulting in a misdemeanor charge. Now, these actions can lead to felony charges, reflecting the gravity of the assault.
What is Strangulation?
Under the revised Pennsylvania Criminal Code, strangulation is defined as knowingly or deliberately obstructing another person’s ability to breathe or blood flow by:
- Squeezing the throat or neck, or
- Covering the nose and mouth.
The significant change with the new statute is that proving physical injury is no longer necessary for a conviction. The argument that no visible harm undermines the gravity of the act is also no longer acceptable in defense of the accused.
Clarifying the Prosecution Process
This adjustment in the law has streamlined prosecution efforts. Previously, for a charge of aggravated assault—which is more serious—a prosecutor would have to show that the suspect intended to cause, and actually did cause, significant harm. The revised standard for strangulation means that the prosecution can pursue felony charges even without evidence of injury—which was a challenge in the past.
The Penalties for Strangulation
The consequences of being convicted of strangulation range widely and are broken down as follows:
- Ordinarily, strangulation is a second-degree misdemeanor.
- It escalates to a second-degree felony if the victim is in the same household as or has had a romantic relationship with the defendant.
- The most serious charge, a first-degree felony, applies under certain conditions such as repeat offenses, violation of protective orders, or use of a weapon.
Punishments vary, with misdemeanors potentially leading up to two years in prison, and felonies up to ten or even twenty years. Without fixed minimum sentences, judges’ rulings can vary from probation to imprisonment based largely on the specifics of each case. Moreover, domestic violence convicts face a ban on owning firearms.
Strangulation Defense Strategies
While it’s become somewhat simpler for legal authorities to prove cases of strangulation, those accused have multiple defenses at their disposal. How these defenses are enacted relies heavily on the context of the incident. Some defenses include:
Self-Protection Measures: When evidence shows that the accuser was the aggressor, the accused may cite self-protection. It’s then up to the prosecutors to conclusively negate this self-defense claim. Failing which, may lead to the defendant being found not guilty.
Alternative Pre-Court Options: In cases with no grave injuries, defendants might be offered a chance to partake in programs before trial. These include, but aren’t limited to, paying fines, participating in community work, attending counseling, and remaining arrest-free. Upon completing these conditions, the defendant could see their charges dropped and their record cleared.
Examining the Accuser’s Trustworthiness: Proving strangulation doesn’t always involve visible injuries. However, if there’s incongruity, like the lack of expected physical signs despite the claim of a prolonged strangulation, the defense might argue that the accusations are unfounded. Questioning the accuser’s motives during the trial can further test their reliability—whether they’re driven by ulterior motives such as spite, envy, or other gains.
Remember, in Pennsylvania, a fair trial is a right. It’s the prosecutors’ task to convince the jury of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If the jury is unconvinced of the accuser’s trustworthiness, this could lead to the defendant’s acquittal.
Rely on Logue Law for Defense
Turn to Attorney Sean Logue and his skilled team at Logue Law when faced with charges of domestic violence or assault. Their track record speaks to their capability to provide top-notch legal representation. Confronting charges of domestic violence strangulation? Reach out to them at 844.PITT.DUI or contact them online to set up a no-cost first meeting. Logue Law is honored to serve clients in Beaver, as well as Ohio and West Virginia.
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