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.

Violation of a Restraining Order

When a judge issues a restraining order, that is a court order for a person to stay away from a specific individual and violation of a restraining order may land the restricted person in jail.

Reasons for issuing a restraining order

Photo by: Rob!

Photo by: Rob!

A restraining order, otherwise known as a protective order, is typically placed against a person who is deemed a threat to another individual. Issuing of restraining orders can stem from charges such as:

• Domestic violence
• Stalking
• Sexual assault
• Physical assault
• Harassment
• Threats
• Human trafficking
• Issues with former employees

How a restraining order works

Restraining order hearings sometimes take a while, so if an individual feels that they are in immediate danger from another person, they can have a judge issue a temporary restraining order. The temporary restraining order must be given, or served, to the restricted person in order for it to be valid. This is typically done by a member of the local police department or court system. This temporary restraining order is usually good for a couple weeks to give the individual time to get a permanent restraining order. Depending on the case; once served, the restricted person may be constrained from:

• Calling, texting, or otherwise trying to communicate with the protected individual.
• Going to the individuals home or place of employment
• Having contact with minor children
• Being within a certain amount of feet from the protected individual. This can mean that the restricted person must leave a public place such as a store if they see that the protected individual is there.

Violation of a restraining order

If the restrained person tries to contact the individual, it is considered a violation of a restraining order. Utah Code 77-36-2.4 states “A law enforcement officer shall, without a warrant, arrest an alleged perpetrator whenever there is probable cause to believe that the alleged perpetrator has violated any of the provisions of an ex parte protective order or protective order [restraining order]”. Violation of a restraining order is a class A misdemeanor. For more information on charges stemming from restraining orders, call a criminal defense attorney.