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ROOMMATE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Most people think domestic violence only occurs between a husband and wife or those in a romantic relationship.  While a crime between a husband and wife would certainly qualify as “domestic violence,” many people are surprised to learn that the crime of “domestic violence” under Arizona law includes a far broader range of disputes beyond those between family members or romantic partners. In fact, a dispute does not even have to be physical fight to qualify as “domestic violence” under Arizona law. What’s worse, is that many police and local prosecutors throughout Arizona charge domestic violence when a crime is alleged to have occurred between roommates.

Proving Domestic Violence in Arizona:

Under Arizona’s domestic violence law, “domestic violence” is not a standalone crime, but instead an allegation that is associated with an underlying crime. This means that in order for a defendant to be charged with domestic violence two conditions must be met:

  • commit one of the underlying crimes listed in the DV statute,
  • the defendant and victim must have a qualifying relationship. A.R.S. § 13-3601.

Concerning the first requirement, crimes commonly charged between roommates by Arizona law enforcement that fall within the purview of the statute include:

  1. Simple Assault
  2. Aggravated Assault
  3. Disorderly Conduct
  4. Criminal Damage
  5. Criminal Trespass
  6. Interfering with judicial proceedings

Regarding the second requirement, the relationship between the defendant and victim qualifies if the relationship is one of marriage or former marriage or of persons residing or having resided “in the same household.” Relying on the “household” portion of the statute, police often charge and prosecutors typically approve, a charge of domestic violence in fights and disturbances between roommates. Unfortunately, in Arizona whether a roommate qualifies as domestic violence is not clear. But, while the courts have yet to determine the applicability of roommates to a DV qualifying relationship, it appears that a more careful reading of the existing domestic violence law, the actual statute and the legislative intent lead to the conclusion that roommates are not a qualifying relationship.

Two Reasons Roommate Domestic Violence Should Not Qualify as a Domestic Relationship:

  1. People who merely reside together as roommates are not members of the same “household” under Arizona law and therefore fall outside the meaning of the domestic violence statute.

By charging roommate domestic violence in an incident between people that merely live together, the State wrongfully assumes that roommates satisfy the domestic violence statute’s relationship element simply because they reside in the same “household.” However, the term “household” has a distinct legal meaning under Arizona law, and a household is not formed merely because two people share the same living quarters. Moreover, Arizona courts have said that individuals who reside together as roommates do not constitute a household. Mendota Ins. Co. v. Gallegos, 232 Ariz. 126, 130, ¶¶ 12-14, 302 P.3d 651, 655 (App. 2013). Arguably, because the relationship between roommates does not constitute a “household,” it does not satisfy the domestic violence statute’s relationship element, and therefore should not be a basis to bring domestic violence charges.

  1. The domestic violence statute’s construction demonstrates that the Legislature intended a specific meaning for “household” distinct from simply sharing of living space.

If the Legislature intended the crime of domestic violence to apply to relationships between persons residing in the same “home,” “abode,” or “residence,” it certainly knew how to widen the statute’s umbrella. Instead, the Legislature chose the term “household,” which has a distinct meaning under Arizona law, evidencing the Legislature’s intent to include a relationship distinct from that of individuals who merely share living quarters.
The legislature did not contemplate a mere roommate relationship when using the term “household” in the domestic violence statute. “Where the legislature uses a term within one statute and excludes it from another, the term usually will not be read into the provision from which it was excluded.” City of Flagstaff v. Mangum, 164 Ariz. 395, 398, 793 P.2d 548, 551 (1990). In contrast to the use of “household” in the definition of domestic violence, in the same chapter of the criminal code the Legislature employs terms such as “home” and “abode” (in the definition of “dependent person” in A.R.S. § 13-3612), and the term “residence” (in 13-3602(G)(2)).

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