Home > criminal law, family law general, HELP, law general > Cohabitant Abuse in Utah: “They don’t DO gays.”

Cohabitant Abuse in Utah: “They don’t DO gays.”

[**Note:  I post this story with permission from my client, whose name and the name of the other party have been changed to protect my client’s privacy.  I’ve left out jurisdictional identifiers for the same reason. The picture that accompanies this post actually IS my client.  I saw the photos of her injuries prior to meeting her.  I did not recognize her when I met her from seeing this/the other pictures, and felt that no one else would either.]

I recently finished up my second non-prosecutorial criminal case.  My client, who we’ll call Beth, had been cited for domestic violence assault as a result of an altercation with her girlfriend, who we’ll call Sue.  Yes, you read that right:  my client was in a homosexual relationship where there was domestic violence.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. . .

My client retained me after being cited in this case.  What happened was this:  Beth had had previous interactions with Sue, her girlfriend, that indicated to her that Sue was trying to exert control over her.  Sue had already been verbally abusing Beth, but had never struck her.  On the day of the incident, back in November of 2010, Sue had started arguing with Beth in their bedroom about Beth’s 14-year old son.  The argument escalated, and Beth tried to leave the room and the argument.  Sue became angry and blocked the doorway.  Beth, who is 7 inches shorter than Sue, and was outweighed by 30 pounds, tried to duck under Sue’s arm.  Sue pushed her back, and then began punching Beth in the head.  Beth felt 2 blows before she was knocked to the floor.  Sue jumped on top of her, straddling her, and began punching her in the head and face.  At this point, Beth’s 14 year old son came into the room, screaming for Sue to get off of his mom.  Sue jumped up and ran out of the room, and then immediately called the police, claiming that Beth had assaulted her.

When the police officer arrived, he met a calm Sue outside the house.  There were some scratches on her chest, and her t-shirt was torn slightly at the collar.  Sue told him that Beth had scratched her and kicked her, and admitted to punching Beth, but just once, and just in self-defense.  Beth, in the meantime, was in a state of shock, and did not cooperate with the officer.  At that time, all that was apparent of Beth’s injuries was a goose-egg rising out of her left temple.

What it looks like when a woman’s girlfriend beats the hell out of her. . .And you don’t even see the height of the bump on the temple from this angle.

Not seeing a large differential in the severity of the parties’ injuries, and hearing opposing stories about what happened, he cited both Beth and Sue with domestic violence assault. (See U.C.A. § 77-36-2.2 for duties and powers of law enforcement when called to a domestic violence scene, including what to do when there are conflicting stories from the parties.)

Beth left the scene in an ambulance, and had a CAT scan immediately upon arriving at the emergency room.  As the bruising in her face developed, her eye, head, and cheek turned black from the injuries inflicted on her by Sue, her girlfriend.

Domestic violence, or cohabitant abuse, occurs anytime there is abuse between people who cohabitate–be they in a romantic relationship or just roommates. (See U.C.A. § 78B-7-102.)  The cop got it right when he issued citations for DV assault.  Whether the parties were gay or straight, they lived together, which qualifies as cohabitant abuse.  The prosecutor, on the other hand, didn’t see it the same way.  He worked a plea agreement (plea of guilty held in abeyance upon successful completion of one year probation) with Sue for simple assault–his theory was that since the homosexual relationship wasn’t recognized by the state (at that time), DV assault wouldn’t stick.  He told me this himself–in front of the cop as well, who looked at me, smiled a little, and shook his head.  I said, “It’s a cohabitant abuse statute.”  “It is,” said the cop, “which is why I cited them with dv assault.”  The prosecutor, sadly, wasn’t. . .*something* enough to see that.

You might wonder what the big deal is with calling it assault or dv assault.  Under the statute, repeated domestic violence assault convictions have enhanced penalties, as a deterrent to re-offending (see U.C.A. § 77-36-1.1).  By not prosecuting Sue on a dv charge, she will not have the enhanced penalties for future offenses, which offenses are a real possibility, given her history and personality. Further, there are statutory protections put in place to protect victims of domestic violence that are not present for victims of assault.  These protections keep the victim from being further abused, and further traumatized by the system. (See U.C.A. Title 77 Chapter 36 for the Cohabitant Abuse Procedures Act.)

It’s also a slap in the face to the actual victim in a case–regardless of whether he or she is gay or straight.  Domestic violence is not a problem that is unique to the heterosexual population, but it’s largely seen as such by law enforcement.  We had a particularly open-minded cop in our case.  He was at least willing to give the DV cite out to a same-sex couple.  That said, had Sue been a man, and had my client been assaulted by her boyfriend, chances are she would not have been cited at all.

At our first pre-trial hearing appearance, I provided the prosecutor with pictures taken of Beth’s injuries after the bruising had developed.  He was not willing to dismiss the charge, or listen to any reason concerning the statute.  We re-scheduled pre-trial for March 18th.  I called the prosecutor a week prior to the pre-trial, to see if he would be willing to dismiss based on this new evidence (and on the fact that they had absolutely NOTHING that would stand up in court to prove the city’s case against my client.)  He was unwilling to discuss at all.  We showed up at the pre-trial expecting the worst.  The prosecutor met with me prior to calling our case and told me that he was going to move to dismiss the charge–but was very quick to point out that it had nothing to do with anything I’d argued to him.  Right.

Sue showed up at the court during our appearance.  She sat herself right down behind Beth while we waited our turn.  When the judge dismissed Beth’s charge, Beth got a look at Sue’s face.  She was angry.  She left the courtroom, but lingered in the lobby.  The responding officer was again in court with us, and he told us to wait a minute before leaving, then headed out into the lobby to usher Sue out.  He came back for us, and waited with us in the lobby until Sue got into her car and actually left the parking lot.  Sue sat in her car a full 5 minutes before leaving.  I appreciated the police escort.  Sue creeped me out.  And I’d never had any actual contact with her.

My client was thrilled.  She thanked the officer, told him she understood his position.  She was very gracious.

Beth was in an abusive relationship with a man before she started living with Sue.  Law enforcement swooped in and protected her in that instance.  Not so this time.

She told me that she had been beaten by a man before, but it was nothing like what happened with Sue–Sue was utterly vicious, merciless.  She said it was absolutely staggering.  Domestic violence is not exclusive to heterosexual relationships.  The only difference between straight and gay DV is the reaction to it by law enforcement and the prosecution:  As Sue told Beth weeks before beating her black and blue, “Don’t bother calling the police for domestic violence in ________.  They don’t DO gays.”

  1. March 20, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    I apologize for the length of some of these posts–as with most things law related, there’s a lot that’s involved with a case. I do not wish to give a less than accurate description of the law as it relates to each situation. I hope that the length isn’t too off-putting. I would be doing you all an injustice by shortening much, because you’d miss half of the picture.


  2. Sarah
    March 29, 2011 at 5:45 am

    On the contrary – I read your blog often and I like the lengths of the entries. Not only is the content informative, but its also well written – written in a way that makes me want to keep reading, even if that particular entry doesn’t apply to my situation. Keep up the good work!


  3. Beth
    June 11, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Marca, I will forever love you for how you helped me in court. I thank you for standing up for me and helping me as a battered woman in gay relationship. I am doing very well and getting on with my life since this happened. You were my angel and you helped me so much. You held me when I was shaking and so afraid in court. I was suffering from “post tramatic stress” because of my partner beating me.
    You will always be in my heart.
    AKA Beth

    Liked by 1 person

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