Misdemeanors aren't the most severe criminal charge you could face in Utah, but they are still serious. If you are convicted of, or even arrested for, a misdemeanor, you could be facing life-altering consequences. Because these offenses can result in a criminal record as well as jail time, fines, and other sanctions, your reputation, finances, personal well-being, and future could be in jeopardy.
What Distinguishes a Misdemeanor from a Felony in Utah?
Utah separates crimes into three groups: felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. Misdemeanors are less serious than felonies and more serious than infractions.
- Infractions can be penalized by
- A fine of up to $750
- Disqualification, and/or
- Compensatory service;
- Misdemeanors are potentially punishable by up to 364 days in jail (we'll discuss specific penalties in detail shortly); and
- Felonies can carry a maximum prison sentence of life (depending on the class).
If you were charged with a crime, and you're not sure whether it's an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony, you can check Utah's Criminal Code for clarification. Most statutes will specify the level of offense. You can also discuss the matter with a criminal defense lawyer to help you understand the charge.
How Bad Is a Misdemeanor?
As noted earlier, a misdemeanor is a serious offense carrying steep penalties. Hundreds of crimes are misdemeanors.
Utah separates misdemeanors into three classifications: class A, class B, and class C. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious of the group and come with the greatest maximum term of incarceration and the highest maximum fine.
What's Considered a Class A Misdemeanor in Utah?
A class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and/or up to $2,500 in fines.
Examples of offenses include, but are not limited to:
- Failure to remain at an accident involving injury (Utah Code § 41-6a-401.3(3)(a)): This offense occurs when someone is in an accident that they reasonably believe resulted in injury to another person, yet they fail to stop their vehicle at or near the scene to exchange information or give reasonable assistance.
- Driving under the influence with personal injury (Utah Code § 41-6a-503(1)(b)(i)): A person commits this offense when they operate a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 or more and because they were driving negligently, cause an accident resulting in injury to another individual.
- Possession of a specified controlled substance (Utah Code § 58-37-8(2)(b)(ii)): A person may be charged with a class A misdemeanor drug crime for knowingly and intentionally possessing a Schedule I or II controlled substance.
What's Considered a Class B Misdemeanor in Utah?
Class B misdemeanors can be penalized by a maximum jail term of 6 months and/or a maximum fine of $1,000.
Examples of offenses include, but are not limited to:
- DUI (Utah Code § 41-6a-503(1)(b)(i)): Charges for this offense arise when a person operates a vehicle while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol or with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05 or greater.
- Assault (Utah Code § 76-5-102): This offense is committed when someone tries to injure another person, or they engage in a violent or forceful act that results in injury to another person or puts the person at substantial risk of bodily harm.
- Hazing (Utah Code § 76-5-107.3(3)(a)): This offense involves initiating someone into a group by either doing something to them or making them do something that puts their mental or physical safety at risk; involves consuming large amounts of alcohol, drugs or other substances that could harm their mental or physical health; or involves acts that could result in extreme mental stress.
What's Considered a Class C Misdemeanor in Utah?
Class C misdemeanors carry a jail term not to exceed 90 days and a fine of no more than $750.
Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Careless driving (Utah Code § 41-6a-1715(2)): A person might be charged with careless driving if, over a continuous period where they travel 3 miles or less, they engage in 2 or more moving violations, or they commit a moving violation because they were distracted while driving.
- Leaving a child unattended in a car (Utah Code § 76-10-2202): It is unlawful for a person to intentionally, recklessly, or knowingly leave a child in a car when a person 9 years of age or older is not there to supervise and the act puts the child at risk of hypothermia, hyperthermia, or dehydration.
- Giving false information to a peace officer (Utah Code § 76-8-507(1)): Charges for this crime arise when someone intending to mislead a peace officer gives false identifying, birthdate, or residence information.
How Is a Misdemeanor Sentence Determined?
In the previous section, we discussed the maximum penalties for the different misdemeanor classifications. If you are convicted of a misdemeanor, you might not necessarily be subject to the maximum punishments. You could receive more lenient sentencing.
A judge will consider aggravating and mitigating factors to determine what penalties to impose. For instance, the punishments may increase if the offense was committed with a dangerous weapon or constituted a hate crime. In contrast, if you were cooperative during the investigation or the judge determines you may benefit from treatment services, your sentence may be reduced.
Do Misdemeanors Go Away in Utah?
If you're arrested for or convicted of a misdemeanor, that information will stay on your criminal record. Having a criminal history can make it hard for you to get a job, find a place to live, or take advantage of opportunities afforded to others.
In some situations, a misdemeanor conviction will stay on your record unless you petition for and are granted an expungement. Except under limited circumstances, an expungement allows your arrest or conviction information to be sealed, effectively giving you a fresh start.
To be eligible to apply for an expungement of a misdemeanor, you must have paid all fines and restitution (if applicable).
Additionally, you must wait the following amounts of time before filing a petition:
- 5 years for a class A misdemeanor
- 4 years for a class B misdemeanor
- 3 years for any other misdemeanor
Under Utah's recently enacted "Clean Slate" law, you may be eligible for automatic expungement of your misdemeanor record. The law applies in cases where the misdemeanor conviction was for a certain offense, you don't have any pending criminal actions, and the required time has elapsed for the particular class of misdemeanor.
What's the Statute of Limitations for Misdemeanors in Utah?
The statute of limitations specifies the time the State has to file a criminal case with the court. For most misdemeanors, prosecution must begin within 2 years of the crime being committed (or when harm was discovered). However, if the case involved negligent homicide, a class A misdemeanor, the State has 4 years to pursue the matter.
If the statute of limitations passes without the State taking action, you cannot be prosecuted for the offense.
Do I Need a Lawyer for a First-Time Misdemeanor Charge?
Yes. Whether it's your first or subsequent violation, it's critical to have a criminal defense attorney on your side. A lawyer can guide you through the justice system, help you understand your rights, identify law enforcement or prosecutorial misconduct, and develop a defense strategy for you.
Lokken & Putnam, P.C. is prepared to zealously defend you in and out of court. Schedule a consultation with our Salt Lake City team by calling us at (801) 829-9783 or contacting us online.