What is Domestic Violence Enhancement in Utah?

The courts handle domestic violence offenses with greater caution because of the perceived risk to the alleged victim. The courts also tend to impose harsher penalties on convicted defendants.

Domestic violence does not refer to one criminal act but many offenses that fall under a certain category of criminal acts. Domestic violence may be charged when a defendant allegedly commits a violent crime against a cohabitant. A cohabitant is generally someone who lives with you whom you have a relationship with, although this might not always be the case. Domestic violence is considered so serious that courts may apply enhancements to domestic violence charges, and convicted defendants might have their penalties upgraded. It might be possible to avoid domestic violence enhancements if you negotiate with the prosecutor.

Courts and prosecutors tend to show no mercy to domestic violence defendants, but our Salt Lake City domestic violence defense attorneys will stand by your side. For a free evaluation of your case, call Overson & Bugden at (801) 758-2287.

What Crimes Are Considered Domestic Violence in Utah?

Domestic violence is often thought to be charged when one spouse becomes violent with another. While this is certainly true, domestic violence is broader than spousal violence and may arise in various other circumstances. Our Utah domestic violence defense lawyers can help you determine if your case has been appropriately charged or if your charges are incorrectly labeled as domestic violence.

According to Utah Code § 77-36-1(4), domestic violence includes any criminal offense involving bodily harm, violence, or threats of violence committed by one cohabitant against another. Domestic violence also includes any attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit a violent crime against a cohabitant. This definition is rather broad and may include any number of violent offenses as long as they are committed by one cohabitant against another.

That brings us to another important question: just what is a cohabitant? Under Utah Code § 78B-7-102(5), a cohabitant includes emancipated minors or those at least 16 years old or older and are one of the following:

  • A current or former spouse of the defendant
  • Living as if a spouse of the defendant
  • Is related to the defendant by blood or marriage as a parent, grandparent, sibling, or other relative to the second degree
  • Has children with the defendant (including unborn children)
  • Lives or has lived with the defendant
  • Is or was having a consensual sexual relationship with the defendant

It should be noted that domestic violence does not include instances of violence against a child by a natural, adoptive, or stepparent, nor does it include violence between siblings under the age of 18.

Enhancements for Domestic Violence Crimes in Utah

The Utah Code enhances criminal charges when domestic violence is involved. These enhancements often take a criminal charge and bump it up to a somewhat higher degree. While these enhancements might make potential penalties harsher, they do not appear in every domestic violence case. Certain conditions must be met before you become eligible for domestic violence enhancements. There might even be ways our Utah domestic violence defense attorneys can help you avoid these enhancements.

The charges and penalties for domestic violence convictions can be upgraded under Utah Code § 77-36-1.1. Generally, charges are increased by one to two degrees, and the penalties likewise increase. However, before your charges can be enhanced, prosecutors must establish that you were previously convicted of a domestic violence offense within a certain number of years.

Suppose you are convicted of a Class C misdemeanor involving domestic violence. In that case, your charges may be enhanced to Class B if you were convicted of a domestic violence offense within the past 10 years. If your previous conviction was for a criminal mischief offense, it must have occurred within the last 5 years. Under the same rules, a Class B misdemeanor would become a Class A misdemeanor, and a Class A misdemeanor becomes a third-degree felony.

Your Class B misdemeanor conviction might be upgraded to a third-degree felony in one of three ways:

  • You were previously convicted of 2 domestic violence offenses that were not criminal mischief within the past 10 years, or
  • You were convicted of a domestic violence offense that was not criminal mischief within the last 5 years and a criminal mischief offense involving domestic violence after that, but before the current conviction, or
  • You were convicted of a domestic violence offense that did not involve criminal mischief within the last 10 years and a criminal mischief offense involving domestic violence within the last 5 years.

Avoiding Domestic Violence Enhancements in Utah

As you can see, enhancements in domestic violence cases only apply under very specific conditions. If these conditions do not exist in your case, prosecutors cannot upgrade your charges and penalties. However, that does not stop prosecutors from trying. Our Ogden criminal defense lawyers can help you determine how to avoid possible enhancements to domestic violence convictions.

It might be possible to arrange a plea in abeyance with the prosecutor and judge in your case. A plea in abeyance is neither a plea agreement nor a diversion program. A plea in abeyance involves defendants pleading guilty to their charges, and the judge sets their guilty plea aside and instead imposes specific conditions or requirements they want the defendant to abide by for a certain amount of time.

According to Utah Code § 77-2a-2, a plea in abeyance may be arranged between the defendant and prosecutor with the court’s approval. Generally, if the court approves the plea, it will set aside the defendant’s guilty plea and impose certain conditions and restrictions that the defendant must abide by. If the defendant completes all requirements, their charges can be dismissed, and their guilty plea will not be entered. If they fail to complete all requirements, their guilty plea will be entered.

The law also states that a plea in abeyance may not be held for longer than 18 months in cases of misdemeanor charges or 3 years in cases of felonies or a mix of felonies and misdemeanors. Additionally, even though the conviction will not be reflected on your criminal record, it may count as a previous offense for future enhancement purposes if you are ever charged with a domestic violence crime again.

Call Our Utah Domestic Violence Defense Attorneys for A Free Case Assessment

If you are charged with a domestic violence offense, your charges and penalties might be enhanced if you are convicted. Our Murray criminal defense lawyers will help you try to avoid conviction or at least avoid enhancements. For a free case review, call Overson & Bugden at (801) 758-2287.