In Utah, felonies are crimes punishable by terms of one year or more in state prison or the death penalty. Less serious crimes (misdemeanors) are punishable by up to 364 days in local jail.
This article will review felony classifications, penalties, and sentencing in Utah.
Utah lawmakers classify felonies as capital felonies or felonies in the first, second, or third degrees. A person charged with a felony faces the following penalties, subject to any applicable enhancements (more on enhancements below).
In Utah, the most serious crimes are capital felonies, punishable by death, life in prison without parole, or imprisonment for 25 years to life. Aggravated murder is a capital felony.
First-degree felonies in Utah are punishable by an indeterminate term of imprisonment of five years or more and up to life, as well as a fine of up to $10,000. Rape, child kidnapping, and aggravated arson are examples of first-degree felonies.
A second-degree felony conviction can result in an indeterminate prison term of one to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000. Aggravated assault, mayhem, and burglary of a dwelling are examples of second-degree felonies in Utah.
A third-degree felony (the least serious type of felony in Utah) is punishable by an indeterminate prison term of up to five years and a $5,000 fine. Promoting (or "exploiting") prostitution, theft of a catalytic converter, and shooting at a vehicle are a few examples of third-degree felonies in Utah. If a statute designates an offense as a felony but fails to classify it, the crime is punishable as a third-degree felony.
Utah law contains several felony sentencing enhancements for repeat or violent felonies. In addition, more than a dozen first-degree felonies carry mandatory sentences of imprisonment.
Below are examples of sentencing enhancements that increase the maximum penalty (those noted above) for which an offender can be sentenced.
Dangerous weapon. For any felony offense involving a dangerous weapon, the judge must increase the minimum sentence by one year and may increase the maximum penalty by up to five years.
Repeat sex offenders. A judge must sentence defendants convicted of a second felony sexual offense to an additional five-year prison term. This five-year sentence is tacked onto and must be served after the sentence for the underlying offense.
Habitual violent offenders. Those found guilty of a third violent felony are considered habitual violent offenders. The law lists over 40 "violent felonies" that are subject to this enhancement, including sex offenses, assault and abuse crimes, stalking, and aggravated robbery and burglary, among others. Upon the third conviction, the offender will face first-degree felony penalties regardless of the felony level of the conviction.
For certain capital and first-degree felonies, the law prohibits the judge from allowing probation or any kind of suspended or reduced sentence. The effect of this restriction means the offender must serve their entire sentence in prison. Some of these offenses include murder, child or aggravated kidnapping, child rape, and aggravated sexual assault.
Utah law gives judges a lot of flexibility in sentencing. The state has sentencing guidelines that provide a recommended sentence for a typical case based on offense severity and the defendant's criminal history. The judge may consider the recommended sentence but isn't bound by it. Based on the circumstances in the particular case, the judge can impose any sentence that's within the maximum penalty provided for that felony class and any applicable enhancements.
Judges can sentence defendants to a term of imprisonment, as well as order payment of fines and restitution. Unless prohibited, the judge may hold off on sending the defendant to prison and instead order probation. Probation allows the defendant to serve all or most of their sentence in the community subject to conditions. For defendants sentenced to prison, the parole board will ultimately determine how much time the defendant actually serves in prison.
A statute of limitations sets a time limit for prosecutors to file charges in a criminal case. When the crime is committed, the statute of limitations begins to "run." In Utah, the most serious crimes—including murder, kidnapping, and sex crimes—have no statute of limitations and the state can begin criminal prosecution at any time. Limitations for other felonies are generally four years or longer. If a prosecutor files charges after the time limit has run (or expired), the defendant can ask the judge to dismiss the charges.
A felony conviction can have serious consequences, including time in prison and a large fine. Even after people have served their time, felony convictions can make it difficult to obtain (or keep) a job, qualify for a professional license, get an apartment, or go to college. If you're charged with a felony, talk to a local criminal defense attorney right away.
(Utah Code §§ 76-3-103, 76-3-201, 76-3-203, 76-3-203.4, 76-3-203.8, 76-3-206, 76-3-301, 76-3-406, 76-3-407 (2022).)