What Doesn’t Work: Trying to intimidate the prosecutor or impress the judge by using legal terms you think you heard on TV: “Judge, I didn’t domestic violence no one! I just collaterally damaged him on accident when I heretofore misappropriated my shoe to his corpus. Anyone who says different is an ignorant heresayer!”
What Works: Knowing the consequences of involving the police in a family fight. I recently represented a woman who smashed a family picture after she found out her husband was cheating on her. During the argument, the neighbors called the police and she was arrested for domestic violence criminal mischief (destruction of property). She was then taken to jail, charged with a misdemeanor, and ordered to have no contact with her husband or children until the case was resolved. She then hired me, and after several court dates, she narrowly avoided a conviction and we eventually got the charge dismissed.
Most people have no idea how serious the consequences can be for calling the police during a family fight. Utah domestic violence laws are extremely strict. Whenever you call the police to investigate a “domestic” situation, you unknowingly start the legal process which controls any domestic violence case handled in Utah. If police are called to investigate a possible domestic violence report, they are required by law to determine the “predominant aggressor” in the situation.
They are then supposed to arrest the predominant aggressor for any apparent charges of domestic violence. If they don’t arrest, they have to make a detailed report explaining why they didn’t arrest. This includes minor violations and laws that most people don’t know about (such as breaking a picture frame or not letting someone leave a room).
Once you or someone in your family is arrested, they will take you to jail, fingerprint you, and take your mug shot (which will be posted online). You will be required to post bail and sign a no contact order before they will release you. You will not be permitted to contact the other person or go anywhere near the house to get your property. You will have to find a hotel or somewhere else to stay until the no contact order is lifted, which can take days, weeks, or months.
When you go to court to face the domestic violence criminal charges, you will have to hire an attorney and take off work for your court dates. Then, if you are lucky, you may be able to work out a deal to keep a conviction off your record (the mug shot and arrest record will still show up). But you may still have to pay a fine and do domestic violence counseling (even for breaking a picture frame). If you are unlucky, you will have a domestic violence conviction on your record, which will revoke your 2nd amendment right to possess a gun and will show when you are looking for a job or applying for school or volunteer opportunities. You may also have to pay a court fine, pay for 16 or more domestic violence classes, and be placed on probation.
Certainly, serious domestic violence situations require immediate police intervention, and you should never hesitate to call the police if you or someone else is in physical danger. In our experience, however, many people call the police just to diffuse the situation or because they are angry, but they don’t realize the consequences of one phone call and would have handled the situation differently if they had known. Clients often say, “I wish I would have just gone outside to cool off instead of calling the police.”