Domestic violence is defined extremely broadly under the Utah Criminal Code, and can apply not only to acts of physical violence but acts of emotional violence or terror as well. While the statute says the crime must be committed against a cohabitant, the definition of cohabitant is also broader than you would think, including people you no longer live with and people who never lived with you at all. Because the penalties for domestic violence offense can be very serious, you should contact an experienced Salt Lake City domestic violence defense lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden as soon after you arrest as possible so we can begin working to get the charges downgraded or dismissed. Below, our lawyers explain domestic violence charges and how we can help, with a particularly focus on whether you can enter a plea in abeyance in a domestic violence case.
What Qualifies as a Domestic Violence Charge in Utah?
First and foremost, any crime involving violence or the threat or violence, when committed by one cohabitant against another, qualifies as a domestic violence offense. However, the statute also lists several non-violent crimes as qualifying offenses, including harassment, stalking, voyeurism, and some forms of criminal mischief, like throwing a plate against a wall during an argument. Most of these crimes involve some sort of form of emotional violence or terror being perpetrated upon the complainant. In addition, the definition of complainant includes not only those who you currently live with, but also any ex-spouse, any person that you either lived with or were in a consensual relationship previously, any person with whom you share a biological child, born or unborn, and any member of your family related by blood or marriage.
Because domestic violence refers to a class of crimes rather than any single offense, the penalties you face with usually be in line with whatever you would have faced for the underlying charge. For example, if you were charged with kidnapping your wife, the charge will remain a second-degree felony like it would for any kidnapping, punishable by up to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.
However, there are consequences that come with having a domestic violence conviction, especially with regard to future charges. If you are charged with a second domestic violence offense within 10 years of a conviction, or a second criminal mischief domestic violence offense within 5 years of a conviction, your charge in the second case can be increased to something more serious in some cases. For example, what would normally be a class C misdemeanor will become a class B misdemeanor. In addition, domestic violence charges are often accompanied by a restraining order requiring you to stay away from the complainant, which can be difficult if you live together.
What is a Utah Plea in Abeyance?
Under Utah law, prosecutors are permitted to allow you to enter into what is known as a “plea in abeyance” for most charges. A plea in abeyance means that you enter a guilty plea, but, if you comply with the court’s conditions and stay out of trouble for a time period up to 1 year, the plea will never be entered, the case will be dismissed, and you will not have a criminal record. The conditions will vary from case to case, but can include such things as completing substance abuse treatment, attending mandatory counseling, community service, and paying fees or restitution. If you fail to complete any portion of the program successfully, the judge will have the option of accepting the guilty plea you entered in abeyance and proceeding to sentence you.
Can You Use a Plea in Abeyance for a Utah Domestic Violence Charge?
You are permitted to enter a plea in abeyance in a domestic violence case, but there are some special rules that apply, some as a result of 2020 changes to the statute. The prosecutor is required by statute to conduct a thorough background check of anyone who they are considering offering a plea in abeyance in a domestic violence case. They must agree to the plea in open court, in writing, or by some other means of communication that will preserve a permanent record of the prosecutor’s agreement to the deal.
Furthermore, even though the charge will not appear on your criminal record if you complete the conditions and stay out of trouble, it will still count as a prior domestic violence offense for the purposes of a sentence enhancement for any future offense. For example, if you commit simple assault against a cohabitant and enter a plea in abeyance, even if you successfully complete the program, that prior assault will mean than any future simple assault that qualifies as a domestic violence offense will be charged as a class B misdemeanor, rather than a class A misdemeanor.
Before you accept any sort of deal where you plead guilty, even if it is a plea in abeyance, you should always consult with an experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden. We can advise you whether such a plea makes sense in your case, and, if it does, work to get the prosecutor to agree to a plea in abeyance with as few conditions and as short a time frame as possible.
If You Are Interested in Pursuing a Plea in Abeyance for a Domestic Violence Charge, Call Our Skilled Utah Criminal Defense Lawyers Today
A plea in abeyance can be a good resolution to a case involving charges of domestic violence. However, prosecutors are not always willing to offer this deal, and in some cases it may not be the best option for your regardless of whether it has been offered. At Overson Law PLLC, our Sandy, UT criminal defense lawyers have years of experience helping our clients throughout the state charged with domestic violence bring their case to a successful resolution. We can help you figure out if a plea in abeyance is the right move for you, and if you believe it is, we can fight to persuade the prosecutor that you deserve the second chance offered by such an arrangement. For a free consultation, call our firm today at (801) 758-2287.