Utah Domestic Violence Laws

Domestic violence laws are very strict. Utah law defines it as a crime which involves two people who are “cohabitants” of each other. The definition of “cohabitant,” is very broad, and many different criminal charges, even non-violent criminal charges, can be classified as domestic violence.

The law defines a “cohabitant” as a person at least 16-years-old who:

  • is a spouse of the other person involved, or
  • is living as if a spouse of the other person involved, or
  • is related by blood or marriage to the other person involved, or
  • has one or more children in common with the other person involved, or
  • is the biological parent of the other person’s unborn child, or
  • resides or has resided in the same residence as the other person involved.

This means that a person can commit domestic violence in many unexpected situations, such as with a roommate, as long as they have lived in the same residence for some amount of time. Or, if the criminal charge involves two adults who lived together at any time in the past, that can qualify as domestic violence, such as a fight between two adult brothers who lived together 20 years ago, or something as simple as an 18-year-old girl throwing a shoe at her 17-year-old brother.

Also, many different criminal charges (violent and non-violent), can be considered domestic violence. All of the following criminal charges can be classified as domestic violence if they happen with a “cohabitant”:

  • Aggravated assault
  • Assault
  • Criminal homicide
  • Harassment
  • Electronic communication
  • Harassment
  • Kidnapping
  • Sexual offenses
  • Stalking
  • Unlawful detention
  • Violation of a protective order
  • Offenses against property
    (including criminal mischief)
  • Burglary
  • Criminal trespass
  • Discharge of a firearm
  • Disorderly conduct
  • Etc.

Sometimes the domestic violence classification is appropriate and justified. But because of how broad the law is written and enforced, the consequences have often been quite severe for very minor criminal charges. For example, anytime a person intentionally or recklessly breaks something that is partially or totally owned by someone else (marital property), that person will be charged. So, if a wife gets angry with her husband and throws his clothes out into the rain, she can be convicted of domestic violence criminal mischief or domestic violence disorderly conduct. Or if a husband gets angry with his wife and slams the door hard enough to damage it, he can also be charged with domestic violence criminal mischief.

Penalties for Domestic Violence in Utah

Because of the strict domestic violence laws, there are some severe penalties associated with domestic violence convictions. By law, if you get a domestic violence conviction, the judge will order you to get an assessment/evaluation and complete whatever treatment, classes, or testing the domestic violence evaluator recommends. This can add up to several hundreds or thousands of dollars. The court will also require you to pay a fine or to serve jail time, depending on the seriousness of the criminal charges and your criminal history. You will also be placed on probation for usually 12 to 24 months.
Additionally, the “non-criminal” consequences of a conviction can be worse than the criminal penalties ordered by the judge. If you have a domestic violence conviction on your record, you will lose your Second Amendment right to bear arms for the rest of your life, meaning you cannot legally possess any weapon. The conviction will also appear on any background check for jobs, volunteering, renting an apartment, etc. And when travelling to another country, if they perform a background check, they may not allow you to enter their country (such as Canada, because they consider any domestic violence charge a felony).

Contact a Utah Domestic Violence Lawyer

In most situations where someone is charged with domestic violence, the penalties required by law are simply too strict. A good attorney, like the ones at Intermountain Legal in Salt Lake City, can help you fight the strict consequences associated with criminal domestic violence charges. Even if the case is strong against you, an experienced attorney can make the system treat you fairly, and will be able to negotiate a result that will help you minimize the punishment and avoid lifelong consequences.

Attorney Steven K. Burton is a former domestic violence prosecutor who now defends people who are facing stiff penalties for domestic violence. He is a hardworking defense attorney who uses his unique knowledge to help his clients make their way through the maze of choices in the criminal court system.