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Utah Cohabitant Abuse Act Defense Attorney

Utah's Cohabitant Abuse Act imposes enhanced penalties for cohabitants who have been previously convicted of a crime of domestic violence. If you are facing prosecution for domestic violence in Utah, the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney is critical. Contact us today to arrange for an initial confidential consultation.

Challenging Utah’s Domestic Violence Enhanced Penalties for Unconstitutional Vagueness

Is the term “cohabitant” unconstitutionally vague?

The Utah Cohabitant Abuse Act creates enhanced penalties for “cohabitants” in certain domestic violence cases. A “cohabitant” who has been previously convicted of a domestic violence offense can face stiffer penalties. Not only can the court impose more jail time or higher fines, but a simple misdemeanor charge can in some circumstances be enhanced to a felony based on prior convictions.

In the Utah Court of Appeals case of State v. Salt, 2015 UT App 72, the defendant challenged the constitutionality of Utah’s domestic violence enhancements. Specifically, the defendant argued that the definition of the term “cohabitant” was unconstitutionally vague where it includes both individuals who currently reside together as well as individuals who have previously shared a residence.

Unconstitutional Statutory Vagueness

Utah courts have held that a statute is unconstitutionally vague when it “fails to provide people of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to understand what conduct it prohibits” or if it “authorizes or even encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.” State v. Ansari, 2004 UT App 326. The basis of the defendant’s argument in Salt was that the statute failed to provide sufficient notice to potential defendants of what behavior is prohibited. Specifically, he argued that the statute did not put him on notice that he was permanently classified as a “cohabitant” simply because he had at one time shared a residence with the alleged victim.

Burden of Persuasion

A defendant challenging a statute for unconstitutional vagueness bears a particularly heavy burden, as the defendant must show that the statute is impermissibly vague in all of its applications. See, Ansari, 2004 UT App 326. Because the law must be vague “in all of its applications” to be found unconstitutional, a defendant who has engaged in conduct that is clearly covered by a statute cannot challenge the vagueness of the law as it might be applied to others not similarly situated. Id.

Utah Court of Appeals’ Analysis

The court in Salt noted that the legislature’s intent in creating this broad class of cohabitants appears to be to protect individuals “in ‘a variety of significant relationships’ from the increased vulnerability to abuse that those relationships may create, even after they end.”  Salt, 2015 UT App 72 (citing Keene v. Bonser, 2005 UT App 37). The court in Salt further noted that the defendant had been involved in a romantic relationship with the victim, and that they had lived together for approximately two years. The court also observed that the alleged offense arose only two months after they had stopped living together, during a discussion that related directly to their relationship.

Finding that the relationship between the defendant and victim “fell within the central focus of the act’s definition of ‘cohabitant,’” the court held that the statute did provide “people of ordinary intelligence” with fair notice of what was prohibited. Thus, the defendant’s challenge for unconstitutional vagueness failed.

Other Potential Challenges to the Utah Cohabitant Abuse Act Enhanced Penalties

- Unconstitutional Overbreadth
- Equal Protection Violations

Finding a Utah Criminal Attorney for Domestic Violence in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake Criminal Defense LawyerIf you are facing prosecution for domestic violence or other criminal charges in Utah, it is vital to have the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Stephen Howard has a track record of achieving real results for his clients. Contact us today to arrange for an initial confidential consultation.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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