Utah’s Domestic Violence Laws Broaden Definition of Cohabitant

A bill recently passed in Utah that broadens the definition of cohabitant when referring to domestic violence laws to allow sexual partners who don’t live together to be able to file restraining orders if needed.

Current or former cohabitants only

Photo by: Tom Britt

Nearly one year ago, a Sandy Utah mother and her six year old son were gunned down in the middle of the street by the mother’s ex-boyfriend. Memorez Rackley and her two sons were walking home from school when they were confronted by Jeremy Patterson, a man Rackley had sexual relations with but had never lived with. Rackley flagged down a passerby and attempted to get her children and herself safely in the vehicle. Patterson shot Rackley point blank and then opened fire on the car, killing six year old Jase. Prior to the death of mother and son, Patterson had grown increasingly irate after Rackley ended their relationship, threatening her life and her children’s lives multiple times and even texting a message to a friend, stating his intention on killing his former lover. Rackley had attempted to obtain a restraining order on Patterson who continued to stalk and harass but because the two had never lived together, the case didn’t fall under Utah’s domestic violence laws.

Domestic Violence in Utah

Until recently, Utah laws regarding domestic violence as stated in section 78B-7-102 defined a cohabitant as “a person who is 16 years of age or older who:

(a) Is or was a spouse of the other party;
(b) Is or was living as if a spouse of the other party;
(c) Is related by blood or marriage to the other party;
(d) Has or had one or more children in common with the other party;
(e) Is the biological parent of the other party’s unborn child; or
(f) Resides or has resided in the same resident as the other party.”

Those fearing for their safety from sexual partners whom they had never lived with were left unprotected by this definition. Toxic or dangerous relationships know no boundaries, including the walls of a home. If a relationship or past relationship causes a person to fear for their safety, they should be able to protect themselves and their loved ones from those who pose a risk to their well-being.

Domestic “cohabitant” redefined

Following the death of Rackley and son, Utah lawmakers finally saw the need to adjust the definition of cohabitant. SB027 which was put into effect May 8th added another definition to the definitions of cohabitant. It now states a cohabitant also includes a person who:

(g) “is or was in a consensual sexual relationship with the other party.”

While a seemingly small adjustment, this expanded definition of cohabitant may save another individual from a similar fate as Rackley and her son. This bill also:

• “modifie[d] definition of ‘crime victim’ as it related to dating violence;
• Addresse[d] violation of specified protective orders;. . .
• Amends provisions for forms of petitions and protective orders;
• Addresse[d] duties of law enforcement officers;
• Addresse[d] when and how a court may act ex parte;”
• And other technical changes as well.

Help for domestic violence victims

Although the state of Utah’s laws protecting domestic violence victims were lacking, lawmakers made adjustments as soon as they saw the need. Sometimes these changes are made too late. Victims of domestic violence are encouraged to do everything in their power to stay safe, and for others around them to watch for signs of domestic violence and to help however possible to ensure the safety of their family and friends. For more information on the signs of domestic violence or tips and planning to stay safe, contact Utah Domestic Violence Coalition at 801-521-5544.

Utah Man Driving Wrong Way on Freeway Arrested for Homicide

A Utah man was arrested for homicide after causing a fatal accident while driving the wrong way down a freeway in Arizona.

Wrong way driver

Photo by: Bradley Gordon

49 year old Dana Michael Cavanaugh of Washington, Utah was headed east down the westbound lanes of Interstate 10 near Quartzsite, Arizona when he collided head on with another vehicle. All three passengers in the westbound vehicle were killed. The accident occurred in close proximity to the off ramp for exit 31, and it is reported that Cavanaugh had just entered the freeway from that off ramp when the accident occurred. It still isn’t known if Cavanaugh was under the influence of drugs or alcohol or whether he mistakenly entered the freeway on what he possibly thought was an on ramp. Cavanaugh was booked into La Paz County Jail on homicide and endangerment charges awaiting results from toxicology reports.

Homicide with a vehicle

Cavanaugh will be facing his charges in Arizona courts however had the accident occurred in Utah, the charges would depend on the results of the wrong way driver’s toxicology report as well as proof of negligence or distraction. If a driver responsible for the death of another person was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and found to be criminally negligent, he could be charged with automobile homicide, a second degree felony according to Utah Code 76-5-207. If the cause of the fatal accident was due to using a handheld device, the charges could be the same under a different section (76-5-207.5). If the driver was not impaired but was determined to have been driving recklessly, the resulting charges could be manslaughter, also a second degree felony (76-5-205).

No impairment

Not all accidents are due to a serious impairment or intentional or reckless mistake by the driver. Some accidents are sadly just accidents. If the driver responsible for a fatal accident was not found to be impaired or distracted and caused the accident maybe due to unfamiliarity with the roads or inability or confusion with understanding the signs, they could then face lesser charges of negligent homicide, a class A misdemeanor as stated by section 76-5-206. For legal assistance in ensuring fair charges related to vehicular homicide, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Bill to Amend Child Neglect Laws to Allow ‘Free-Range Parenting’ in Utah

Governor Herbert has signed a bill amending Utah’s child neglect laws to allow ‘free-range parenting’. These changes are to be effective May 8th 2018.

Parenting styles

Photo by: Ben Gray

The term ‘free-range parenting’ began after a book published by Lenore Skenazy called “free-range kids” started a movement of parents nationwide who encouraged their children to do more things unsupervised. Skenazy herself let her 9 year old ride the subway alone while other parents took milder approached to the parenting style by letting their young children walk to school alone. The opposite of helicopter parenting, ‘free-range parenting’ allows children to develop their independence through more freedom. Unfortunately, this choice of parenting style has come at a price for many families across the country.

Punishing parents

There have been several notable instances around the country of parents being punished for not keeping a close eye on their children. While many cases stem from actual neglect, others occur from parents who felt their child was old enough to be without a watchful guardian for a period of time. One case in 2015 resulted in children being removed from their home in Maryland for being alone at a park two blocks from their home. The 6 and 10 year old Meitiv children had been allowed to go to a nearby park without their parents when a neighbor notified police of the unattended children. Officers picked the children up and returned them hours later after the parents agreed to not leave the children alone again.

Protecting parental choices

Photo by: Igor Spasic

After hearing of countless stories of parents like the Meitiv’s being punished for letting their children have more freedom, Utah lawmakers saw the need to protect parents in the way they choose to raise their children by adjusting the laws regarding child neglect. On Friday, Governor Herbert announced that he had signed a bill which amended child neglect laws in order to allow ‘free-range parenting’ in Utah. According to S.B. 65, “[the] bill amends the definition of “neglect” and makes technical changes.” To section 78A-6-105 the bill has added the following:

“neglect does not include:
…(iii) a parent or guardian . . . permitting a child whose basic needs are met and who is of sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm, to engage in independent activities, including:
(A) traveling to and from school, including by walking, running, or bicycling;
(B) traveling to and from nearby commercial or recreational facilities;
(C) engaging in outdoor play;
(D) remaining in a vehicle unattended, except under the conditions described in Subsection 76-10-2202(2) [which ensures kids are with someone 9 years of age or older and aren’t subjected to unfavorable conditions which could lead to hyperthermia, hypothermia, or dehydration];
(E) remaining at home unattended; or
(F) engaging in a similar independent activity.”

Case by case basis

The amendments to the child neglect laws purposely leave out a specific age of child where free-range parenting is allowed. This is to ensure that local officers may work on a case by case basis, as not all children reach the level of maturity necessary to be able to be keep themselves safe while roaming on their own. Parents are encouraged to carefully consider their own child(ren) and whether or not they would be considered mature enough to do the above activities safely without the accompaniment of a parent. Utah parents are also warned that this law does not go into effect for over six weeks and does not apply when Utah residents visit neighboring states. Parents who are currently facing child neglect charges for their choice of free-range parenting are encouraged to seek the assistance of an attorney who is privy to the upcoming changes to laws and how best to address current charges.