Charges in the State Courts in Utah are divided into two general categories: Felonies and Misdemeanors. Felonies involve a prison sentence; misdemeanors involve charges that have a maximum sentence of less than 12 months in jail.
Misdemeanors that have a maximum sentence of six months or less in Utah are prosecuted in local justice courts. The first appearance in a misdemeanor case is an arraignment where a plea of guilty or not guilty may be entered. Generally, the justice courts will allow an attorney to enter a not guilty plea in writing. A pre-trial conference, which is essentially a settlement conference, will be scheduled after a not guilty plea is entered. If the case cannot be settled at the pre-trial conference a trial will be scheduled. The defendant has the option of requesting that the case be tried to a jury or to a judge if a potential jail sentence is involved.
Misdemeanor charges often have collateral consequences such as the loss of driver’s license or the enhancement of future offenses. It is important to seek the advice of an attorney if charged with a misdemeanor to understand all of the consequences of a conviction or to determine whether there are viable defenses to the charges.
Felony charges in the State Courts in Utah are prosecuted in the District Court in the county where the offense is alleged to have occurred. All felony prosecutions require a first appearance where the defendant is informed of the charges, a preliminary hearing where a judge determines if there is a reason to believe a crime was committed and the defendant committed the crime, an arraignment where a plea is entered, a trial and a sentencing if there is a conviction. Some districts have additional proceedings to determine if a preliminary hearing is needed.
Because any felony involves a potential prison sentence, it would be extremely unwise for a person to try to represent themselves. In order to adequately prepare a case it is critical to have an experienced criminal defense attorney involved as early as possible.