The 6 Steps of the Domestic Violence Court Process in Utah

Man being arrested for domestic abuse in handcuffs

22 Nov 2023 / Gravis Law

The 6 Steps of the Domestic Violence Court Process in Utah

Domestic Violence in Utah


Navigating the criminal justice system can be confusing and intimidating, especially when facing domestic violence charges. Knowing what to expect and the key steps involved in the court process in Utah can help you prepare a stronger legal defense. Here is an overview of the six main steps of the domestic violence court process in Utah from arrest to sentencing.


Our attorneys at Gravis Law deliver optimal case outcomes for you with the utmost discretion and empathy. With years of experience, we have years of proven outcomes. Call us today at 385.707.0432 for your free consultation.

1. Arrest and Booking

The first step occurs when police respond to a domestic violence call and determine probable cause to make an arrest. Police will take the suspected perpetrator into custody, confiscate any weapons, and transport them to the county jail. At booking, the suspect is fingerprinted, photographed, and formally charged. For domestic violence in Utah, common charges in Utah include assault, aggravated assault, domestic violence in the presence of a child, violation of a protective order, stalking, and more. After booking, suspects may be held in jail or released on bail while awaiting their first court appearance.

2. Initial Appearance and Arraignment

Within 24 hours of arrest, the accused will be brought before a judge for their initial appearance and arraignment. At this hearing, the judge reviews the charges and may set or adjust bail conditions. Defendants who cannot afford bail may remain jailed until their trial. The judge also considers issuing a criminal protective order to prevent contact between the defendant and victim during the case. Defendants are asked to enter a plea at arraignment. Most plead not guilty initially to preserve their legal rights. Those who plead guilty or no contest may proceed directly to sentencing.

3. Preliminary Hearing

For felony domestic violence charges in Utah, a preliminary hearing takes place within 10 days of the initial appearance. The prosecutor presents enough evidence to establish probable cause that the defendant committed the alleged crimes. With probable cause determined, the judge orders the defendant to stand trial. For misdemeanor domestic violence charges, there is no preliminary hearing and cases proceed directly to the pretrial conference.

4. Pretrial Conference

At the pretrial conference, the criminal defense lawyer and prosecutor discuss plea bargain options or prepare for trial. They may exchange information through the discovery process. The judge ensures case preparations stay on schedule leading up to the trial date. Most domestic violence cases end in plea bargains to avoid trial. Defendants often plead to lesser charges to reduce penalties.

5. Trial

If no plea deal is reached, the case proceeds to a bench or jury trial. In domestic violence trials, the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Police officers often testify about the arrest, along with the victim and any eyewitnesses. The defense attorney works to raise doubts about the defendant’s guilt by cross-examining the prosecution’s witnesses and presenting exculpatory evidence. Defendants can choose to take the stand to share their version of events. After both sides present their case, the judge or jury deliberates and returns a verdict.

6. Sentencing

If convicted of domestic violence, sentencing depends on the specific charges and criminal history. Utah domestic violence sentences can include:

  • Jail time – Up to 1 year for misdemeanors, 5+ years for felonies

  • Fines – Up to $10,000 plus victim restitution

  • Probation – Up to 36 months with domestic violence treatment

  • Anger management classes – Typically minimum 26 weeks

  • Batterer intervention program – For repeat offenders, at least 36 weeks

The judge also decides on a criminal protective order, typically 3 years, to prevent contact with the victim. Other sentencing conditions may include counseling, community service, and weapon restrictions.

How a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

Having an experienced domestic violence lawyer on your side is critical for navigating the complex court process and building the strongest defense. Here are some of the key ways a criminal defense attorney can assist:

  • Evaluate police reports for rights violations or lack of probable cause

  • Negotiate with prosecutors for charge reductions or dismissals

  • Gather exculpatory evidence and find case weaknesses

  • Cross-examine witnesses to undermine their credibility

  • Present expert testimony to counter the prosecution’s arguments

  • Advocate for the lowest possible penalties if convicted

  • Appeal the verdict or sentence if there are legal grounds


An aggressive defense lawyer knows how to fight these allegations every step of the way. They advise clients on the best legal strategies based on the unique circumstances of their case. Their knowledge can make the difference between a guilty verdict or dropped charges.

Common Defenses in Utah Domestic Violence Cases

When building a defense, a skilled domestic violence defense lawyer explores many angles to create reasonable doubt of guilt. Here are some of the most common defenses used in Utah domestic violence cases:


If the accused acted in self-defense against violence initiated by the alleged victim, this can justify their actions. The defense must provide evidence of a real threat that required their defensive response.

False Accusations

In messy breakups and divorce disputes, some alleged victims falsely accuse their ex out of anger or revenge. A lack of physical evidence or witness testimony casts doubt on their claims.

Mistaken Identity

Eyewitnesses can be mistaken, especially in chaotic, quick-moving situations. The defense may argue the witnesses wrongly identified the defendant in low light or from a distance.

Mental Health Issues

A defendant’s mental illness, like bipolar disorder, PTSD, or schizophrenia, could have impacted their actions and culpability. A psychological evaluation can support an insanity or diminished capacity defense.

FAQs About Domestic Violence Charges in Utah

If you or a loved one is facing domestic violence allegations, you likely have many pressing questions. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

1. What are common domestic violence charges in Utah?

Common charges include assault, aggravated assault, domestic violence in front of a child, violation of a protective order, harassment, stalking, kidnapping, and homicide.

2. What are the penalties for domestic violence convictions?

Penalties vary based on the charges but may include fines up to $10,000, jail terms from 30 days to 5+ years, probation, domestic violence treatment, anger management classes, and criminal protective orders.

3. Can domestic violence charges be reduced or dropped?

Yes, an experienced criminal defense lawyer can often negotiate plea bargains for lesser charges like disorderly conduct that carry lighter penalties. Cases can also be dismissed due to insufficient evidence.

4. Does domestic violence stay on your record permanently?

Utah domestic violence convictions remain on your criminal record permanently. However, records can be expunged in some cases after 7-10 years.

5. Can you own a gun if convicted of domestic violence?

No, domestic violence convictions prohibit you from legally owning firearms or ammunition under federal law. Some exceptions exist for law enforcement, military, and security personnel.

Get Experienced Legal Representation From a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney

Domestic violence allegations have severe consequences for your freedom, family, and future. But an aggressive defense lawyer can guide you through the legal process and build the strongest case for an acquittal or mitigated outcome. Do not leave your fate in the hands of an overworked public defender. Contact our experienced Utah criminal defense attorneys today for a free case review. We have helped hundreds of clients beat domestic violence charges and can put our skills and dedication to work for you. With an attorney fighting for you every step of the way, you have the power to take back control.


Our attorneys at Gravis Law deliver optimal case outcomes for you with the utmost discretion and empathy. With years of experience, we have years of proven outcomes. Call us today at 385.707.0432 for your free consultation.



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