Utah Domestic Violence Laws

By , Attorney (UC Berkeley School of Law)
Updated April 17, 2023

In Utah, a person commits domestic violence by committing (or attempting to commit) any crime involving violence, physical harm, or the threat of violence or physical harm against a "cohabitant" (a term that has specific meaning under the law). A person charged with domestic violence will often have to obey a protective order, and if convicted of the crime, can face stiff penalties.

What is Considered Domestic Violence in Utah?

Any crime involving violence or threat of violence or physical harm is domestic violence if committed by one cohabitant against another. Crimes such as assault, harassment, stalking, and knowingly violating a restraining order are domestic violence crimes when committed against a cohabitant.

A "cohabitant" doesn't just include someone the perpetrator lives with, such as a spouse. Cohabitants can include former spouses; people who are in a sexual relationship or had one in the past; people who live together or have lived together; people who are related by blood or marriage; and people who have children together.

Generally, Utah's domestic violence laws don't consider cohabitants to include relationships between parents and their minor children or between siblings under 18. Otherwise, anyone over 16 (or an emancipated minor), can be a domestic violence victim.

(Utah Code §§ 77-36-1, 78B-7-102, 76-5-108 (2023).)

Arrests and Bail in Utah Domestic Violence Cases

Under Utah's laws, if a police officer has probable cause to believe (a reasonable belief) that a domestic violence crime has occurred, the officer must make an arrest without a warrant or issue a citation (ticket).

This is an exception to the usual rule that officers can make a warrantless arrest only under certain conditions—when a misdemeanor has been committed in their presence, or they have reason to believe a felony has occurred, and the arrest is outside the home.

Further, if the officer has probable cause to believe the victim will remain in danger or that the defendant has recently caused serious injury or used a dangerous weapon, the officer must make an arrest and take the defendant into custody.

After an arrest for domestic violence, the arrested person can't contact or harass the victim or go to the victim's home. Before they're released on bail or R.O.R. they must sign an agreement saying they won't do those things (and if they refuse to sign, the court will very likely order no contact on the first court date anyway). But the victim can sign a written waiver saying they don't want the no-contact provisions.

In some cases where the defendant's release would be a substantial danger to the alleged victim, or the defendant is a flight risk, bail might be denied.

(Utah Code §§ 76-5-108, 77-20-201, 77-20-204, 77-20-205.)

Protective Orders and Firearm Restrictions in Utah DV Cases

A protective order (also called a restraining order) is a court order requiring one person (the respondent or defendant) to not contact and stay away from another person (the petitioner or victim). Violating a DV protective order is a crime, which authorizes the police to arrest the person suspected of the violation.

Pretrial Protective Orders

Whenever a defendant is charged with domestic violence, the court may issue a pre-trial protective order that sets conditions such as:

  • banning the defendant from contacting or communicating with the victim
  • excluding the defendant from the petitioner's residence, school, workplace, or any other place
  • requiring electronic monitoring
  • granting any other relief necessary for the safety and welfare of the petitioner or another person.

Other Protective Orders

Even if no charges are pending, a court can issue a protective order when a cohabitant who has been the victim of (or is in danger of) domestic violence asks for an order. The court can issue an "ex parte" restraining order for a short period of time, usually 20 days.

To get a restraining order for a longer period, a hearing is required. The alleged abuser must receive notice of the hearing and have an opportunity to attend. At the hearing, if the court finds the restraining order necessary, the order will usually remain in place for two years.

Firearms Restrictions and Other Conditions

When making an ex parte restraining order or a two-year protective order, the judge can add other restrictions, such as a ban on firearms. If the judge finds that the person's use or possession of a weapon could pose a serious threat of harm to the petitioner, the court can prohibit the person from buying, using, or possessing a firearm or other weapon.

The judge can set other conditions that are necessary to protect the alleged victim and their children. For example, the court might award temporary child custody to the petitioner.

Consequences for Violating a Protective Order

Violating almost any provision of a protective order is a crime. The only exceptions are for things like violating child custody orders (and orders regarding family pets), which can be punished only as "civil contempt." Even though civil contempt isn't a criminal conviction, it can result in a fine and time in jail.

(Utah Code §§ 76-5-108, 78B-7-603, 78B-7-604, 77-36-2.7 (2023).)

Penalties for Domestic Violence in Utah

The punishment for a first domestic violence offense is usually the same as the punishment for the crime itself, regardless of who the victim is.

But if the defendant has a prior conviction for domestic violence within 10 years of the new conviction (or within five years if the prior DV offense was criminal mischief), the crime gets bumped up a notch. Here's what happens when the prior conviction is proved:

  • a class C misdemeanor, becomes a class B misdemeanor, carrying s sentence of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000
  • a class B misdemeanor, becomes a class A misdemeanor, which can result in up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500, and
  • a class A misdemeanor becomes a third degree felony, punishable by a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000.

For example, a simple assault is usually a Class B misdemeanor, but if the defendant has a prior conviction for domestic violence, the assault becomes a Class A misdemeanor.

Violating a protective order is a Class A misdemeanor. Violating the post-arrest ban on contacting or harassing the victim is a class B misdemeanor, and violating the written agreement not to do is a class A misdemeanor. (Utah Code §§ 76-3-203, 76-3-204, 76-3-301, 76-5-102, 76-5-108, 77-36-1.1, 77-36-2.2, 78B-7-802 (2023).)

Getting Legal Help

A restraining order or conviction for domestic violence can have serious consequences. If you're charged with domestic violence or served with a restraining order, you should contact a Utah criminal defense attorney immediately. An attorney can tell you what to expect in court and advocate on your behalf so that you can obtain the best possible outcome.

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