Utah Criminal Law: An Overview
Are you facing criminal charges? Taking the time education yourself about how the system works may help you prepare to put forth the best possible defense. Find out more about how criminal cases are classified and how to decide on the best legal defense representation for you.
Infraction, Misdemeanor, or Felony?
You’ve been arrested and charged, but you are not entirely sure what the criminal charges mean. Will you have a permanent criminal record now? Are you going to jail? Will you be able to get a job when this is all over?
What is an Infraction?
Infractions are the least severe category. Infractions are generally punishable by a fine of up to $750, probation, community service, or a combination of penalties. Usually infractions do no result in jail time if you pay fines and pay them on time. The courts have the power, however, to order jail time if you are delinquent in addressing the penalties they impose.
One example of an infraction would be a traffic ticket. In some cases in the state of Utah, a serious enough traffic violation could rise to the level of a misdemeanor, which could appear on your criminal record.
An experienced attorney may be able to present an argument to reduce a misdemeanor charge to an infraction. Doing so would help you avoid a trial and potential jail time. This defense strategy might reduce misdemeanor shoplifting or domestic violence charges, for example.
What Are the Penalties for a Misdemeanor?
Misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in jail. A fine of up to $2,500 is another possible punishment. Utah categorizes misdemeanors into Classes A through C, with Class A being the most serious. Petty crimes generally are charged as misdemeanors. If you are facing a felony charge, it also is possible for your criminal defense attorney to file to reduce charges to this lesser category.
Degrees of Felonies
Felony crimes make up the most severe classification in criminal law and are punishable by more expensive fines and longer prison terms. Utah has four classes of felony crimes:
- Capital: This class applies to violent crimes such as murder. They are punishable by life in prison, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty.
- First degree: Aggravated kidnapping is an example of a first-degree felony crime. This category is punishable by five years to life in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
- Second degree: Theft of a firearm is an example of a second-degree felony. This category is punishable by one to 15 years behind bars and up to a $10,000 fine.
- Third degree: Theft of property or services valued between $1,500 and $5,000 is an example of a third-degree felony. Convicted offenders are subject to up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Drunk Driving Laws in Utah
Many states have strict laws that apply to offenders convicted of driving under the influence, commonly referred to as a DUI. Utah is no different. Stiff penalties apply to anyone found guilty of DUI charges, beginning with 48 hours in jail or 48 hours of community service on the first offense.
Utah is an “implied consent” state, meaning that any licensed driver who refuses breath, blood, or urine testing is subject to penalties, even if not convicted of a DUI. This does not apply to a portable breath test at the time of your stop.
Any driver may face drunk driving charges in Utah if they:
- Have a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.05% or higher (this 0.05% standard is the harshest in the country)
- Operated a motor vehicle while impaired by any detectable amount of drugs or alcohol
- Are under the legal drinking age of 21 and have any amount of alcohol in their system
Utah has a zero tolerance policy for drivers under 21.
What Are the Potential DUI Penalties in Utah?
The answer to that may depend on if it’s your first offense or if you are a repeat offender. Securing representation by an experienced criminal defense attorney is important in DUI cases because they will be able to put you in the best position to minimize the potential consequences of a conviction.
Note that all convictions may mean jail time, with the amount of time increasing with each DUI conviction. A third offense DUI, for example, could result in serving anywhere from 62 days to five years in jail. DUI offenders also are required to pay for all associated fines and fees for any mandated treatment costs. A DUI defense can be expensive, but there is a lot at stake with any potential conviction.
Suggestions for Hiring a Law Firm
What should you consider when searching for a Utah criminal defense attorney? The decision who to hire for your legal representation is yours to make, but the following factors could help you decide among the many criminal defense lawyers in Utah who are available:
- Do their practice areas meet your needs? It probably doesn’t make sense to hire a personal injury lawyer or someone who only practices in family law, for example, if you’ve been charged with multiple drug crimes.
- Does the law firm or law office offer a free consultation for potential clients to discuss their case?
- Do you feel comfortable with the legal advice offered during your initial appointment?
- Does the lawyer have any online testimonials or reviews to help you understand how they work with clients?
Considering all these factors, as well as what is at stake, can help set you up to mount the best possible defense to your criminal charges.