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Utah Criminal Law: An Overview

If you're facing your first criminal offense, you're probably feeling intimidated by the complex Utah criminal law system and the uncertainty of your penalties or future as a criminal. It's important to keep a cool head during the process and learning about your rights and options as a criminal offender can help with this.

Use LawInfo's criminal law articles to help educate yourself about Utah's laws and how they affect your case. You can learn about the difference between misdemeanors and felonies, intoxicated driving charges and many other state-specific criminal law topics. You can also use LawInfo to connect with a Utah criminal law attorney in Salt Lake City, West Valley City, Provo or elsewhere in the state.

Utah Prosecutors File Criminal Charges

Utah's criminal procedure is often the least understood judicial system for the general public. Most people are familiar with the police's role in crime investigation and public service but not with the extent of the police's role in a criminal prosecution. The police do not file criminal lawsuits or participate in the prosecution beyond occasionally serving as witnesses.

Once the police have collected evidence through investigation and interrogation, one of several types of attorneys decides whether to pursue a prosecution if they're presented with enough evidence for the offense(s). The attorney prosecutes the criminal defendant on behalf of the local, state or federal government depending on the offense and the jurisdiction.

If the victim wishes to pursue legal action for the recovery of damages, they will need to petition for a separate civil lawsuit. The victim typically only serves as a witness in a criminal lawsuit.

Crime Classifications in Utah

Every state has its own system of classifying crimes which also identifies the statutory punishments for each classification. Utah has two main criminal offense classifications, in order of seriousness: felonies and misdemeanors. A third classification for non-criminal offenses is an infraction. Both felonies and misdemeanors are penalized with imprisonment and fines while infractions only receive fines.

Every crime classification (except for infractions) has a range of degrees of seriousness. Every degree carries a range of possible penalties, including maximum penalties. The range of felony and misdemeanor degrees and penalties include:

  • Capital felonies—Reserved for the most severe murder convictions. Life imprisonment with our without parole or the death penalty.
  • First degree felonies—Between five years and life imprisonment plus $10,000.
  • Second degree felonies—Between one and 15 years of imprisonment plus $10,000.
  • Third degree felonies—Between zero and five years of imprisonment plus $5,000.
  • Class A misdemeanors—One year of imprisonment and $2,500.
  • Class B misdemeanors—Six months of imprisonment and $1,000.
  • Class C misdemeanors—90 days of imprisonment and $750.

Infractions such as traffic violations are penalized with up to $750 in fines.

Murder vs. Manslaughter in Utah

Not every homicide case can be treated equally to one another because Utah recognizes the difference between murder and manslaughter. While both are equally serious offenses in which the defendant killed the plaintiff, the circumstances surrounding the case and the defendant's intentions determine the severity of their penalty.

The key difference between the two types of homicide is malice aforethought. If the defendant is found to have intentionally killed the victim, it was a murder. If there was no intention to kill the victim, it was manslaughter. However, that's an overly simplistic explanation of how a court determines which kind of homicide the defendant may be convicted of.

Murder is classified as either a first degree or capital felony depending on mitigating and aggravating factors. Manslaughter is a second degree felony.

Speak to an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified criminal defense lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local criminal defense attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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