Utah, like most states, divides crimes into felonies and misdemeanors. Misdemeanors in Utah are punishable by up to 364 days in a local jail. Felonies (more serious crimes) are punishable by incarceration in state prison.
This article will provide a basic overview of misdemeanor classifications, penalties, and sentencing in Utah.
Utah designates three misdemeanor classes: Classes A, B, and C. Class A misdemeanors are the most serious of these, and class C the least. Some misdemeanors are unclassified and punished as infractions (which carry no possibility of jail time).
A conviction in Utah for a class C misdemeanor can result in up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750. Driving on a suspended license, giving a false name to police, and failing to disperse are class C misdemeanors.
If a statute designates an offense as a misdemeanor but fails to classify or specify a punishment for it, the crime is punishable as an infraction. Typical punishments for infractions include a fine of up to $750 and compensatory service (unpaid work for a government agency, nonprofit, or other court-approved organization).
Utah law increases or enhances misdemeanor penalties in a number of instances. A defendant may face a higher misdemeanor class or, sometime, a felony penalty. Below are some examples.
Hate crimes. Defendants will face enhanced penalties if they intentionally target victims or property based on race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or other personal attributes. The penalty increases to the next higher penalty level (moving from a class C to class B misdemeanor, class B to class A misdemeanor, and class A misdemeanor to third-degree felony).
Gang offenses. Certain crimes committed for the benefit of, or in association with, a gang are also subject to penalty enhancements of one level. Examples of these offenses include graffiti, criminal mischief, tampering with a witness, and weapon offenses.
Repeat offenses. Defendants who repeatedly commit the same or a similar misdemeanor offense can end up with increased penalties. For instance, a first stalking violation is a class A misdemeanor but a second conviction is a third-degree felony. Domestic violence offenses are another good example. A defendant who commits a repeat misdemeanor domestic violence offense faces the next higher penalty level for having one prior domestic violence conviction and two levels higher for having two prior domestic violence convictions.
Protected victims. Penalties for several misdemeanors increase when a defendant harms a victim who's in a protected class of individuals. Protected victims include elderly adults, children, pregnant women, emergency responders, school employees, judicial officers, and others. Assault is a good example. This offense starts as a class B misdemeanor. But if a defendant knowingly assaults a pregnant woman, school employee, or peace officer, the offense bumps up to a class A misdemeanor.
Increased harm or damage. Misdemeanor penalties also increase for a number of offenses when the level of harm or threatened harm to persons or property increases. For example, assault and endangerment crimes carry increased penalties for increased levels of bodily harm. The penalties for theft and property damage crimes also increase as the value of the stolen or damaged property increases. Many of these offenses carry felony penalties as well.
Utah judges have a lot of flexibility in sentencing. When making sentencing decisions, judges will consider the severity of the offense, the defendant's criminal history, and any harm to victims. Sentencing options generally include jail time, probation, compensatory service, restitution, and fines. Some offenses may qualify for home confinement, electronic monitoring, or diversion.
Judges may start with the state's sentencing guidelines for misdemeanors. The guidelines provide a recommended sentence (jail time or probation) based on the offense classification and the defendant's criminal history. For most first-time offenders, the guidelines recommend probation rather than jail time. But as the severity of the offense and the defendant's criminal history increase, recommended sentences include lengthier sentences and jail time.
A judge may go with the guideline recommendations but isn't bound by them. Judges are free to impose any sentence up to the maximum allowed in statute.
Statutes of limitations set time limits for prosecutors to file criminal charges in a case. If a prosecutor files charges after the time limit expires, the defendant can ask the judge to dismiss the case. Most misdemeanors in Utah have a statute of limitations of two years, which typically starts to run when the crime is committed.
Any criminal conviction, even for a misdemeanor, can have serious consequences that can last long after the defendant has served a jail sentence or paid a fine. If you are charged with any crime, contact an experienced local criminal defense attorney.
(Utah Code §§ 76-1-302, 76-3-201, 76-3-203.1, 76-3-203.3, 76-3-204, 76-3-205, 76-3-301, 76-3-301.7, 77-2-9, 77-36-1.1, 77-36-2.7 (2022).)