Utah Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is an issue that is never far from the headlines and it continues to be a pervasive problem throughout the United States. In an effort to deter acts of domestic violence, Utah law enforcement officials and prosecutors work hard to charge, prosecute and penalize domestic violence offenders. Unfortunately, that means you could be arrested and face criminal charges for domestic violence even if the allegations against you are false or fabricated. However, by consulting an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as you are arrested or charged, you can minimize the consequences stemming from domestic violence allegations. Whatever the circumstances of your case, an experienced Utah domestic violence defense lawyer can negotiate with the prosecution on your behalf and help you avoid the devastating consequences of a domestic violence conviction.
Utah Domestic Violence Laws
Typically, when people think about domestic violence, the first thing that comes to mind is physical abuse between two spouses. While such an example certainly falls under the umbrella of domestic violence, Utah laws have established a much more expansive definition of domestic violence. Under Utah Code § 77-36-1, any criminal offense that involves physical harm or violence, a threat of physical harm or violence, or any attempt, solicitation or conspiracy to commit a criminal offense involving physical harm or violence by one cohabitant against another can constitute an act of domestic violence. This can include the commission or attempt to commit any of the following crimes, or others:
- Assault – Utah Code § 76-5-102
- Aggravated assault – Utah Code § 76-5-103
- Stalking – Utah Code § 76-5-106.5
- Kidnapping, child kidnapping or aggravated kidnapping – Utah Code §§§ 76-5-301, 76-5-301.1 and 76-5-302
- Unlawful detention – Utah Code § 76-5-304
- Violation of a protective order – Utah Code § 76-5-108
- Harassment – Utah Code § 76-5-106
- Mayhem – Utah Code § 76-5-105
- Sexual offenses – Utah Code § 401 through § 416
- Criminal homicide – Utah Code § 76-5-201
- Aggravated cruelty to an animal with the intent to harass or threaten the other person – Utah Code § 76-9-301(4)
Who Qualifies as a Cohabitant?
Under Utah domestic violence laws, a cohabitant means an emancipated individual or an individual 16 years of age or older who:
- Is or was a spouse of the defendant;
- Is or was living as if a spouse with the defendant;
- Is related by marriage or blood to the defendant (i.e. a parent, sibling or grandparent);
- Has or had one or more children in common with the defendant;
- Is or was in a consensual sexual relationship with the defendant;
- Is the biological parent of the defendant’s unborn child; or
- Resides or has resided in the same home as the defendant.
Effective July 1, 2020, Utah Code § 78B-7-102 specifically excludes from the definition of cohabitant the relationship of natural parent, adoptive parent or stepparent to a minor; and the relationship between natural, adoptive, step or foster siblings who are under the age of 18.
Domestic Violence Penalties in Utah
Utah is one of many states that have different methods for handling domestic violence-related offenses compared to non-domestic offenses. In Utah, if the police respond to a domestic disturbance call at your home, you may be arrested without a warrant and taken into custody if the officers have probable cause to believe that you committed an act of domestic violence, that there will be continued violence against the alleged victim, or that you either recently caused serious bodily injury or used a dangerous weapon in the commission of the domestic violence offense. This is true even if the alleged victim does not wish to press charges against you.
Because Utah does not have separate criminal statutes that deal with domestic violence crimes, in domestic violence cases, the punishment imposed by the court is based on the nature and severity of the underlying crime. For instance, if you are charged with committing aggravated assault against a cohabitant in Utah, you could be found guilty of a third-degree felony (Utah Code § 76-5-103(2)), a crime that carries a possible prison term of up to five years and a maximum fine of $5,000. On the other hand, if you are charged with unlawful detention against a cohabitant in violation of Utah Code § 76-5-304, you could be found guilty of a class B misdemeanor, a far less serious crime that carries a possible sentence of up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines.
Domestic Violence Protective Orders
Any person who accuses you of committing a domestic violence-related offense against them can petition the court for a civil restraining order, also known as a cohabitant abuse protective order. This type of order can require you to do any or all of the following things:
- Stop abusing or threatening the alleged victim (the petitioner),
- Refrain from calling, contacting or otherwise communicating with the petitioner,
- Leave your property, regardless of who owns it,
- Keep a specified distance between yourself and the petitioner,
- Stay away from the petitioner’s school, place of employment, place of worship, or any other specified place frequented by the petitioner,
- Refrain from using, possessing or purchasing a firearm or other weapon specified by the court, and
- Pay child or spousal support to the petitioner.
If a domestic violence protective order has been issued against you in Utah, you must know that violating any of the provisions set forth in the order can result in charges for contempt of court, which is punishable as a class A misdemeanor.
Utah Domestic Violence Defense
Given the broad scope of Utah’s domestic violence laws, there are dozens of offenses that can lead to criminal charges for domestic violence. Even false or exaggerated allegations of domestic violence can lead to an arrest and possibly even a criminal conviction, which can have devastating, long-lasting consequences affecting your personal and professional life. Whether you have been arrested, named in a domestic violence protective order or you are facing criminal charges for domestic violence in Utah, it is imperative that you have an attorney review your case and prepare a compelling defense on your behalf. A good Utah criminal defense attorney with experience in domestic violence defense will fight aggressively to prove your innocence and protect your rights and freedom.
Contact an Experienced Domestic Violence Defense Attorney
Being convicted of a domestic violence-related crime in Utah can expose you to substantial fines and time in jail or even a state prison sentence, depending on whether the underlying crime is a misdemeanor or felony. A domestic violence conviction will also show up on your criminal record and the stigma associated with domestic violence is such that it could prevent you from obtaining future employment, housing or professional licensing, among other serious repercussions. If you have been accused of or charged with a domestic violence-related crime in Utah, you need the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney who can advocate for you and help you avoid the long-term consequences of a domestic violence conviction. The sooner you get professional legal help, the better your chances of success.