After another record year of domestic violence in Utah, two bills aiming to shield victims from their abusers moved a step closer to being signed into law.
Eight members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Friday listened to — and unanimously approved — Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, and Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, as they pitched SB27 and HB165, respectively.
The bills were inspired by the death of Memorez Rackley and her 6-year-old son Jase. The two were killed June 6 in Sandy when a man Rackley had dated shot them in the middle of the street. The man, Jeremy Patterson, killed himself shortly after.
Prior to her death, Patterson had been stalking and harassing Rackley, eventually prompting her to seek a protective order against — but because of how Utah defines domestic violence, she didn’t receive one, Weiler said.
That definition also deterred Sandy police officers from treating the stalking as a domestic violence case, meaning Rackley wasn’t given a lethality assessment or put in contact with a victims advocate or a shelters.
The domestic violence designation hinges on the definition of “cohabitant.” Under the current law, people who have dated, but never lived together, don’t qualify for a protective order. The definition only applies to those who are or were married, have lived together or are relatives.
“What was most disturbing to me was that she didn’t qualify for the original protective order that I’m told that she sought ... ” Weiler said.
Weiler’s bill would change the definition of “cohabitant” in the statute to include people who are in a consensual sexual relationship.
The bill also places a 10-year limit on protective orders, which currently don’t expire. If the victim still wants the order after that long, they must prove their case in court, Weiler said.
HB165 sets a similar limit on jail release agreements — typically a no-contact order placed on individuals arrested on suspicion of domestic violence when they are released from jail to keep them away from the alleged victim — if a criminal case is declined or never filed. Those orders would expire after 30 days if prosecutors don’t take up the case.
Because of the current law, sometimes people are released from jail and cannot return home because of no contact orders.
“The bill keeps victims protected, but it also helps those who are arrested when no charges are filed,” Romero said.
Steve Burton, the president of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, spoke out against one part of the bill: the time it takes for the order to expire.
Burton argued the order should expire after 14 days so those individuals could return to their homes sooner.
The bills will next move to the House for approval.
The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee is considering SB27, which would add people who are in consensual sexual relationships to apply for protective orders. Current law requires applicants to be “co-habitants.” - Read full text