What Types of Actions Are Considered Domestic Violence in Utah?
When people think of domestic abuse, they tend to think of a situation where one spouse is physically beating another. However, the definition of domestic violence under Utah law is far broader than that and can include not just physical violence but emotional violence as well. Furthermore, the potential penalties can vary and will be greater for those who have prior convictions for domestic violence offenses. Below, our skilled Salt Lake City domestic violence defense lawyers at Overson Law, PLLC explain what crimes in the state of Utah are considered domestic violence offenses, how being charged with an offense that qualifies as domestic violence can change your case, and how we can help you bring the matter to the most positive possible resolution.
What Charges in Utah Are Considered Domestic Violence Offenses?
There is no single charge called “domestic violence” under the Utah criminal code. Instead, domestic violence or domestic abuse are ways of referring to a particular class of crimes committed against a particular class of persons. Specifically, any criminal acts of violence, or threats of violence, that are committed against someone like a romantic partner, spouse, or other cohabitants, are defined as domestic violence. A cohabitant is someone you live with and have a familial or romantic relationship with. They are usually someone more than just a roommate.
The statute goes on to provide a list of qualifying charges, stating that the definition of domestic violence includes committing, or attempting to commit, any of the listed offenses against a cohabitant. Some charges that can be considered domestic violence offenses under the non-exhaustive list provided in the statute are obviously violent offenses such as assault, homicide, child abuse, threatening with a deadly weapon, and violent sexual offenses like rape or sexual battery, or kidnapping. However, some seemingly non-violent offenses like stalking, harassment, electronic communication harassment, and voyeurism are also listed. Even criminal mischief charges in Utah, such as throwing your cohabitant’s belongings against the wall during an argument, can qualify in some instances.
People Involved in Domestic Violence Abuse in Utah
The definition of a cohabitant under the statue is also quite broad. Not only does it include spouses, people in relationships that live together, whether they are platonic roommates, family members, or romantic partners, but also any ex-spouse or a person that you either lived with or were in a consensual relationship with previously. Furthermore, any relative by blood or marriage and any person with whom you share a born or unborn child also qualify as cohabitants for the purpose of the statute.
Because the range of charges that can be classified as domestic violence if committed by one cohabitant against another is so broad, it is best to consult an experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer like those at Overson Law, PLLC who can help you understand whether your charge qualifies.
Penalties for Domestic Violence Offenses in Utah
Due to the fact that there is no single domestic violence charge, but rather a broad class of crimes that can be considered domestic violence offenses, there are a wide variety of penalties that can be imposed. If this is your first domestic violence offense, meaning you do not have any qualifying previous conditions, the penalties will be the same as whatever they are for the underlying offense. For example, an assault against a cohabitant will still be a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and fines up to $1,000.
The domestic violence label comes into play during sentencing when you have prior domestic violence convictions on your record. If you have been convicted of a domestic violence offense listed in the statute, not including criminal mischief, within the past 10 years, new offenses will essentially contain a sentence enhancement policy. Those previously convicted of a class C misdemeanor will have their charge upped to a class B misdemeanor, those previously convicted of a class B misdemeanor can have their charge upped to a class A misdemeanor, and those previously convicted of a class A misdemeanor will have their charged upped to a third-degree felony.
Furthermore, those previously convicted of criminal mischief domestic violence offenses can also receive sentence enhancement in some cases. If a domestic violence offense is committed within 5 years of a conviction for criminal mischief domestic violence, they will have their charges upped in the same manner as described above for other domestic violence offenses, with a Class C turning to a Class B, etc.
Convicted defendants may also be subjected to a sentencing protective order, which requires them to stay away from the victim. This means, as part of your sentence, you are not allowed to be around the victim. If you are caught near the victim, you may face more penalties. You may be required to participate in electronic monitoring to make sure you stay away from the victim. This may also mean you can no longer be around your own children.
What Happens After I am Arrested for Domestic Violence in Utah?
After an arrest, you will be taken to the local police station for the booking process and held in their holding cell or at the county jail until your initial appearance and bail hearing can occur, usually no more than 72 hours after your arrest. It is important to have an experienced Utah bail hearing attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC represent you at this hearing, where the judge will decide if you can be released and how high to set bail. Furthermore, if the complainant wants a temporary protective order imposed against you, it will be discussed in this hearing. This can be problematic if you live with them, in which case you will be forced to find new housing, at least temporarily. The prosecutor can also continue with the charge even if the complainant asks for it to be dismissed.
After you have been released, we will work to get you a deal where your charges are dismissed or downgraded. This includes the possibility of a plea in abeyance where the charges will be dismissed if you complete the program and stay out of trouble for the probationary period. Of course, if you do not wish to take a deal, our skilled Utah domestic violence defense lawyers at Overson Law, PLLC are always willing and able to defend your innocence in the courtroom.
What Domestic Violence Cases Can Lead to Protective Orders/Restraining Orders in Utah?
In many cases of domestic violence charges, the defendant must remove themselves from the homes they share with their partner or cohabitant. In cases where the parties may be spouses or have children together, this can be very difficult. You may even be ordered by the court to stay away from your partner and any of their family members, including your own children. There are several types of orders that could be imposed in relation to domestic violence.
Emergency/Temporary Restraining Orders
A temporary restraining order, often called a TRO, may be filed by the petitioner—that’s the alleged victim of abuse—as an ex-parte order. Filing ex-parte means the petitioner can request the court impose the order in your absence. You may not be notified of the TRO until after it is effective. These are issued in more serious situations where the alleged victim claims they are in immediate danger. Once a full hearing has been conducted on the matter, the TRO is usually lifted.
Permanent Protective Orders and Restraining Orders
Other kinds of orders that might be imposed are protective orders and restraining orders. These orders have very similar goals, to keep you away from the petitioner. However, they tend to apply under somewhat different conditions. Protective orders are imposed specifically for domestic violence cases. The petitioner must be a cohabitant as legally defined in the Utah Code to get a protective order. The petitioner must also be facing physical violence or threats of violence.
Restraining orders are more general and are not criminal in nature. They are often applied in civil cases where the parties need to be kept apart. Domestic violence does not have to be involved for a restraining order to be imposed. Restraining orders also do not usually have criminal penalties but civil penalties or sanctions imposed by the court. A restraining order probably would not come up in a criminal case of domestic violence. However, if you and your spouse get a divorce, a restraining order could be used to keep you apart.
Domestic Violence Charges You Need a Lawyer for in Utah
Defending against accusations and charges of domestic violence can feel like an uphill battle. People labeled as “abusers” receive very little sympathy and juries might be too eager to convict. This is why it is crucial to find holes or weaknesses in the evidence and suppress any evidence that should be kept out of court.
Common forms of evidence in domestic abuse trials would be photographs of the victim after an alleged assault, medical records of the victim if they sought treatment for injuries from an alleged assault, and testimony from the victim and people close to them. There could be other evidence depending on how the domestic violence happened. If there was alleged sexual violence, the victim might have undergone a rape kit to obtain DNA evidence. If children were also allegedly abused, their testimony could also be used.
One thing we must absolutely do is to look at the evidence and determine if it was obtained lawfully. If evidence was obtained from a search of your home, the warrant permitting the search must be valid I order for the evidence to be admissible. If there is any inadmissible evidence, we can file motions to suppress it and keep it out of the trial.
We can also make arguments regarding the credibility of witnesses. Witnesses providing testimony must be credible if a jury is to believe them. By undermining their credibility, a jury will be less likely to accept a witness’ testimony as true. For example, if we know of a reason witness might have to lie, we can bring that up and undermine their credibility to the jury.
Other Consequences and Penalties for Domestic Violence Charges in Utah
Domestic violence charges will likely put you at a serious disadvantage in divorce proceedings. Your ex-partner may claim abuse or violence as grounds for the divorce. If you were convicted, they might show the conviction as proof of fault. This proof of fault will play a more prominent role in child custody arrangements and the division of property.
When determining who should have physical and legal custody of any children during a divorce, courts will mainly consider what is in the best interest of the child. Domestic violence can be committed against a partner or spouse and also against your kids. If there are allegations or convictions for domestic violence involving your children, courts are unlikely to grant you custody.
Domestic violence charges may also affect the division of marital property. Utah follows a rule of equitable division, meaning property will be divided up in the way that is most fair and not necessarily equal. If one spouse has demonstrated fault, such as infidelity, neglect, or domestic abuse, the other spouse may be awarded more property.
If You Are Facing Domestic Violence Charges, Call Our Experienced Utah Criminal Defense Lawyers Today
Being charged with a domestic violence offense can mean greater penalties and serious consequences like a temporary restraining order. At Overson Law, PLLC, our Utah criminal defense attorneys will be there with you through the entire case, answering your questions, fighting for your rights, and working to bring the matter to the best possible resolution for you. Call us today at (801) 758-2287 for a free consultation.