Criminal charges involving domestic violence are taken very seriously by the authorities in Utah. The state has a very expansive definition of domestic violence than includes crimes that do not actually involve any physical violence as well as crimes that are committed against people you no longer live with or never lived with in the first place. Because of this, some people can be shocked that their charge qualifies as a domestic violence offense, which can bring greatly heightened penalties in certain cases. Below, our experienced Salt Lake City domestic violence defense attorneys at Overson & Bugden explain how domestic violence charges can lead to increased criminal penalties and how our lawyers can help you bring your domestic violence case to the best possible resolution.
Penalties for Utah Domestic Violence Offenses
Most of the time, potential penalties for an offense classified as domestic violence will be the same as the potential penalties for the underlying charge. For example, if you are charged with simple assault against someone who qualifies as a cohabitant under the law, the charge will be a class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and fines up to $1,000. These are the same penalties you would face if you committed simple assault against a non-cohabitant.
However, if you have been previously convicted of a qualifying domestic violence offense within 10 years, or a qualifying domestic violence offense involving criminal mischief within 5 years, any new charge will be upped to the next gradation. For example, any charge that would normally be a class C misdemeanor becomes a class B misdemeanor, any charge that would normally be a class B misdemeanor becomes a class A misdemeanor, and any charge that would normally be a class A misdemeanor becomes a third-degree felony. As each charge is upped, the potential penalties are also upped, with a third-degree felony being punishable by up to 5 years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
There are also other potential negative consequences unique to domestic violence charges. After a charge has been filed, the police or prosecutor will ask the complainant if they want a temporary restraining order imposed. If they answer yes, and a protective order is issued, you will have to cease all contact with the complainant and stay away from them, meaning that if you live together, you will need to move out at least temporarily.
What Charges are Considered Domestic Violence under Utah Law?
As noted at the outset of this article, the definition of domestic violence in Utah is quite broad. Any violent offense or offense where violence is threatened qualifies as domestic violence if committed against a cohabitant. However, the statute also lists a number of crimes where emotional violence rather than physical violence is the main component as qualifying domestic violence offense including stalking, harassment, voyeurism, and some instances of criminal mischief, such as throwing your spouse’s clothes out the window into a rainstorm during a fight.
In addition, the definition of cohabitant is also far broader than the way this word is used in day-to-day conversation. The legal definition of a cohabitant, of course, includes someone who you live with. However, it can also include a person who you used to live with or a person who you either are or were in a consensual romantic relationship with who you never actually lived with. Other people considered cohabitants under the code include any family member related by either blood or marriage and any person with whom you share a biological child, whether you live with them or not.
How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Assist with my Utah Domestic Violence Case?
One of the first things you will need to focus on after a domestic violence arrest is getting yourself released from police custody. There will be a bail hearing, usually with 72 hours of your booking, where the judge will decide if you can be released on your own recognizance, meaning without bail, released on bail, or if you must be held in jail until the underlying charges are resolved. If the judge chooses to set bail, they will consult the Utah Uniform Bail Schedule but also consider such individual factors as your criminal history, ties to the local community, and whether you might present a flight risk. A skilled Utah bail hearing attorney like those at Overson & Bugden will know how to make the most persuasive arguments to get you released on little to no bail.
After this, we can work on negotiating a deal with the prosecutor to get your charges downgraded or dismissed. Even if the complainant retracts their statement or makes it clear they do not want to press charges, the prosecutor can still continue with the case against you. Our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers will work to convince them that the case is not winnable without the victim’s testimony and that they should drop the charges. However, if a protective order has been issued, it is vital to remember that you cannot contact the victim and try to get them to retract or you could face further charges for violating the order, which can come with serious penalties including jail time.
If the victim does not retract or we cannot get the charges dismissed, we can try to get you a plea in abeyance, where the charges will be dismissed if you successfully comply with the court’s requirements and stay out of trouble for a period of time. Other deals our lawyers can negotiate might involve the charges being downgraded to something less serious or you agreeing to plead guilty in exchange for a lenient sentence recommendation. Of course, if you do not wish to take a deal, our skilled trial always are always ready and able to fight for a not guilty verdict at trial.
If You Are Facing Spousal Abuse Charges, Contact Our Skilled Salt Lake City Domestic Violence Defense Attorneys
If the crime you have been charged with is classified as a domestic violence offense, you could face enhanced penalties and serious repercussions like being forced out of your home. At Overson & Bugden, our skilled St. George criminal defense lawyers have years of experience working with clients across Utah charged with domestic violence to get their charges downgraded or dismissed. For a free consultation, call us today at (801) 758-2287.