Domestic Violence Charges: Misdemeanors Versus Felonies

There's no doubt that domestic violence is a dangerous problem. According to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, more than 10 million people are abused each year in the United States. Moreover, one in four women and one in seven men will experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner at some point in their lives. But what do you do when a current or former partner accuses you of domestic violence? This page will discuss some of the more common charges associated with domestic abuse and explain the difference between misdemeanor and felony domestic violence charges.

Defining “Domestic Violence”

In Pennsylvania, there are no domestic violence charges apart from other crimes like assault. Instead, if a family member accuses you of a crime that involves a “domestic relationship,” police and prosecutors will handle the case differently. Pennsylvania Criminal Statutes define domestic violence generally as knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly causing a physical injury of any kind, causing fear of physical injury of any kind, assault, rape, sexually abusing minor children, or stalking or harassment that puts them in fear of bodily injury. These acts can occur between current or former spouses, partners, those with a child, or between parent and child or other household members. 23 Pa.C.S. §6102.

Common Domestic Violence Charges

Some of the most common domestic violence charges include both misdemeanors and felonies:

· Stalking: Stalking is a complicated statute but occurs under Pennsylvania law when one repeatedly follows or communicates with someone else, causing severe emotional distress or reasonable fear of bodily injury. 18 Pa.C.S. §2709.1.

· Harassment: Harassment occurs when the defendant directs unwanted conduct at another “with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm.” The behavior can include anything from lascivious remarks to hitting, kicking, or threats. 18 Pa.C.S. §2709(a).

· Assault: There are many Pennsylvania crimes encompassed by the term “assault.” From simple assault and aggravated assault up to strangulation or terrorism. 18 Pa.C.S. §2701, et seq.

· Child Abuse: Child abuse encompasses a wide range of charges in Pennsylvania but generally happens when someone acts or fails to prevent harm to a child under 18. 23 Pa.C.S. §6303. Child abuse can include physical injury, serious mental injury, sexual abuse, or exploitation.

· Sexual Assault: In Pennsylvania, sexual assault is having intercourse with another person against their will or when they are unable to give consent. 18 Pa.C.S. §3122.1

· Murder: Murder is an offense of degrees in Pennsylvania. First-degree murder is generally the intentional killing of another. Second-degree murder is the killing of another during the commission of a felony. Third-degree murder encompasses all other types of murder, including killing someone without premeditation or intent. 18 Pa.C.S. §2502.

· False Imprisonment: A person commits false imprisonment, “if he knowingly restrains another unlawfully so as to interfere substantially with his liberty.” 18 Pa.C.S. §2903.

· Kidnapping: Kidnapping occurs under Pennsylvania law when a person either: (1) unlawfully confines someone for a substantial period in a place of isolation or (2) unlawfully removes someone a substantial distance from where they found them. 18 Pa.C.S. §2901.

Misdemeanor Versus Felony Charges

Just because Pennsylvania law classifies a crime as a misdemeanor does not mean that it isn't a grave matter or that you won't face prison time if found guilty. Misdemeanors are generally considered less severe than felonies, with shorter prison sentences and lower fines. But they are more serious than summary offenses, which the courts punish with fines and no jail time.

Misdemeanor Crimes

Misdemeanors generally fall into three classes:

· First-degree misdemeanor: The penalty is up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. First-degree misdemeanors include charges like stalking and simple assault of a child.

· Second-degree misdemeanor: The penalty is up to two years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine. Second-degree misdemeanors include crimes like bigamy and simple assault of an adult.

· Third-degree misdemeanor: The penalty is up to one year in jail and up to a $2,500 fine. Third-degree misdemeanors include charges like defiant trespass, marijuana possession, and loitering.

Some crimes also have mandatory minimum sentences, which may vary the penalty. For other crimes, a second or third offense will increase the severity of the misdemeanor charge.

Felony Crimes

Felonies are more serious than summary charges or misdemeanors. While many felonies are crimes that involve serious physical harm, the law also classifies some white-collar crimes as felonies. Jail time can range from one year to life in prison. Misdemeanors that are second or third offenses can also be felonies.

Felonies also fall into classes:

· First-degree felony: Penalties can be up to 20 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines. First-degree felonies include crimes like rape, kidnapping, and assault with serious bodily injury caused or threatened.

· Second-degree felony: The penalty can be up to 10 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines. Second-degree felonies include crimes like statutory sexual assault, aggravated assault, and assault with a deadly weapon.

· Third-degree felony: Penalties can be up to seven years in jail and up to $15,000 in fines. Third-degree felonies include crimes like institutional sexual assault of a minor and carrying a gun without a permit.

There are other offenses where the court will determine the penalty. This is the case with first, second, and third-degree murder, although all are first-degree felonies.


Code Section

Type of Offense



18 Pa.C.S. §2709.1

First-degree misdemeanor

Up to 2.5 to 5 years in jail and up to $10,000 fine



Third-degree felony

Up to 3.5 to 7 years in jail and up to $15,000 fine


18 Pa.C.S. §2709

Summary offense

Up to 90 days in jail and up to a $500 fine

False Imprisonment

18 Pa.C.S. §2903

Second-degree misdemeanor

1 to 2 years of jail and up to $5,000 fine

Simple Assault

18 Pa.C.S. §2701

Second-degree misdemeanor

1 to 2 years of jail and up to $5,000 fine

Aggravated Assault

18 Pa.C.S. §2702

First or second-degree felony

Up to 10 to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine

Child Abuse

23 Pa.C.S. §6903(b)

First-degree misdemeanor

Up to 2.5 to 5 years in prison and up to $10,000 fine

Child Abuse


Third-degree felony

Up to 3.5 to 7 years of jail and up to $15,000 fine

Sexual Assault

18 Pa.C.S. §3122.1

Second-degree felony

5 to 10 years in prison and $25,000 fine


19 Pa.C.S. §2901

First-degree felony

Up to 20 years in prison and $25,000 fine


18 Pa.C.S. §2502

First-degree felony

Anywhere from 10 years to life in prison or the death penalty

Hire an Experienced Domestic Violence Defense Attorney

As you can see, both misdemeanor and felony charges related to domestic violence can have severe consequences and penalties. Whether you are facing misdemeanor or felony charges related to domestic abuse or a Protection from Abuse Order, you need a skilled attorney. LLF Law Firm has defended Pennsylvania residents against domestic violence and other criminal charges for many years and has obtained great outcomes for clients often in the face of long odds. Give the LLF Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686 or contact us online.

Contact Us Today!

The LLF Law Firm Team has decades of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the LLF Law Firm today! Our Criminal Defense Team will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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