Damage to or Interruption of a Communication Device in Utah

Some crimes sound fairly minor, but they can wreak havoc on a person’s criminal record. Damage to or interruption of a communication device sounds like a lesser crime but is a class B misdemeanor and can be a common occurrence in domestic disputes.

Communication Device

Photo by: r. nial bradshaw

Utah Code 76-6-S108 defines a communication device as “. . . any device, including a telephone, cellular telephone, computer, or radio, which may be used in an attempt to summon police, fire, medical, or other emergency aid.. . Emergency aid means aid or assistance, including law enforcement, fire, or medical services, commonly summoned by persons concerned with imminent or actual:
• jeopardy to any person’s health or safety; or
• damage to any person’s property.”

Domestic disputes

There are many instances in which someone may damage or interrupt a communication device without malicious intent. For example, during an argument, a husband may decide their wife is losing control and may get violent. Husband tells wife that he is going to call the police. Wife realizes she is sounding out of control, but knows her temper is in check, so she grabs the phone and keeps it away from husband, wanting to explain the situation. Later, the police show up and arrest wife for damage to or interruption of a communications device.

Interruption of a communication device

Photo by: Matt Reinbold

Regardless of the person’s intentions, section 76-6-S108 states: “a person is guilty of damage to or interruption of a communication device if the actor attempts to prohibit or interrupt, or prohibits or interrupts, another person’s use of a communication device when the other person is attempting to summon emergency aid or has communicated a desire to summon emergency aid, and in the process the actor:

a) uses force, intimidation, or any other form of violence;
b) destroys, disables, or damages a communication device; or
c) commits any other act in an attempt to prohibit or interrupt the person’s use of a communication device to summon emergency aid.”

Damage to or interruption of a communication device is a class B misdemeanor which could result in a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail term of no more than six months.

Legal counsel

While there are many instances of damage to or interruption of a communication device that are done with ill intent, there are also many times when it is just a misunderstanding with no knowledge of the severity of the situation. For any charges related to a domestic disturbance that may or may not have been misinterpreted, it is important to contact a criminal defense attorney prior to police questioning.

Domestic Violence Victim Charged With Felony Child Abuse For Not Protecting Infant

A Utah mother who is a victim of domestic violence was charged with felony child abuse after authorities stated she did not protect her infant from harm.

Abuse of an infant

Photo by: Alyssa L. Miller

21 year old Daniel Mercer and 30 year old Whittney Huber were arrested when a Utah hospital alerted authorities after discovering signs of child abuse on the couple’s three month old baby daughter. The young infant suffered burns on her hand, broken bones, as well as bleeding on the brain. She is currently recovering at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Mercer was arrested for multiple charges including drug possession, domestic violence, and felony child abuse for causing serious injuries to the infant. Huber was also arrested for felony child abuse for not protecting her daughter from Mercer.

Failure to protect a child

Although some criminal events cannot be foreseen, it is likely that Huber knew her daughter was not safe around Mercer. Prior to the infant’s serious injuries, police were dispatched to the couple’s apartment on calls of domestic violence. Although the baby showed no signs of abuse during those calls, the mother later stated that threats had been made toward the child’s safety. Disregarding officer’s instructions to keep Mercer out of the home, Huber allowed him the re-enter, and thereby permitted the abuse to continue to her as well as her baby.

Felony child abuse

Authorities indicated that in years past, Huber had been the victim of domestic violence and has already had older children removed from her care. Now the state has been awarded temporary custody of the infant daughter while the mother faces criminal charges. Utah Code 76-5-109 (2) it states “Any person who inflicts upon a child serious physical injury or, having the care or custody of such child, causes or permits another to inflict serious physical injury upon a child is guilty of an offense as follows:

(a) If done intentionally or knowingly, the offense is a felony of the second degree;
(b) If done recklessly, the offense is a felony of the third degree; or
(c) If done with criminal negligence, the offense is a class A misdemeanor.”

Regardless of herself being a victim, Huber was responsible for the child’s safety and by not protecting the baby from abuse, Huber is being charged with permitting the child abuse to occur.

Domestic violence

Photo by: Scary Side of Earth

Sadly many individuals are in situations of domestic violence and even more devastating are the numerous homes in which children are present to witness the abuse. Although not all domestic violence situations put the children in immediate physical harm, the emotional trauma from witnessing violent events can have long-lasting ill effects. According to Utah’s Cohabitant Abuse Procedures Act, many domestic offenses that children could be victims or witnesses to are:

• Aggravated assault;
• Assault;
• Criminal homicide;
• Harassment;
• Electronic communication harassment;
• Kidnapping;
• Mayhem;
• Sexual offenses;
• Stalking;
• Unlawful detention;
• Violation of a protective order;
• Any offense against property;
• Possession of a deadly weapon with criminal intent;
• Discharge of a firearm from a vehicle, near a highway, or in the direction of any person, building, or vehicle;
• Disorderly conduct;
• Child abuse;
• Threatening use of a dangerous weapon;
• Threatening violence;
• Tampering with a witness;
• Retaliation against a witness or victim;
• Unlawful distribution of an intimate image;
• Sexual battery;
• Voyeurism;
• Damage to or interruption of a communication device.

While many of these domestic violence offenses may not appear to directly involve the children in the home, children hear and see more than many realize. With the prevalence of domestic violence, it is imperative that anyone facing such situations reaches out for help for themselves and their children. Anyone needing help from domestic violence is encouraged to call the Utah Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-897-LINK or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE. Anyone facing charges related to their staying in a domestic violence situation should seek qualified legal counsel.

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.