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Penalties for Felony Drug Crimes

How long is the prison sentence for a felony drug offense in Davis County?

In 2015, the Utah State Legislature enacted some sweeping criminal justice reforms that dramatically affected penalties for drug crime prosecution. The most significant aspect of the drug crime reforms was the reduction of most standard drug possession charges from the felony level down to the class A misdemeanor level. Even with these reforms, many drug crimes are still punishable at the felony level.

At the third-degree felony level, a drug conviction is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. A second-degree felony drug charge carries a possible prison term of up to 15 years. A first-degree felony drug charge (generally only applicable to distribution charges) can result in a "life" prison sentence.

Even at the misdemeanor level, the consequences of a criminal drug conviction are serious. But at the felony level, the penalties for a drug conviction rise dramatically. If you are facing prosecution for drug crimes in Davis County or anywhere in Utah, contact us today to see how an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you.

Does a judge have to impose prison time in a felony drug case?

Relatively few crimes in Utah carry mandatory jail or prison sentences. In most Davis County drug cases, the actual sentence imposed by a judge will depend on a number of factors that may be considered by the court. Even in a felony drug case, the court has discretion to impose a variety of penalties, which can include probation and drug treatment, jail time as a condition of probation, or the full prison term.

What can I do to improve my chance of avoiding prison?

The criminal justice system has a number of goals that it has been designed to accomplish. These goals include protecting society from criminal conduct, punishing offenders, and helping offenders through the rehabilitation process.  These sometimes-competing goals require that a judge and a prosecutor consider a variety of issues and interests as they approach the sentencing process.

When approaching a sentencing hearing from the defense perspective, we want to be able to keep the judge (and prosecutor when possible) focused on the rehabilitation goal of the criminal justice system. If a judge is convinced that substance abuse or addiction is the underlying issue leading to criminal activity, and if the defense can convince the judge that appropriate drug treatment can adequately address that issue, a person's chances of avoiding jail or prison increase substantially. Becoming involved with a treatment program or counselor immediately is one of the most important things you can do to help persuade a judge or prosecutor that treatment, not jail, is the best answer.

Treatment is often just one piece of the puzzle. Getting into a treatment program is not an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card. But by consulting with your criminal defense attorney, you can work together to develop defense strategy designed to give you the best chance of staying out of jail.

If I do go to prison, how long will I spend there?

Utah criminal law provides for "indeterminate" prison sentences. This means that the judge does not determine the ultimate length of a prison sentence. Instead the judge imposes a range of time that is set by statute. The Board of Pardons and Parole then decides how much of that time will actually be served in prison.

The Board of Pardons and Parole can consider a number of factors in making its decision, including a person's prior criminal record, prior prison or jail terms served, and prior probation or parole history. In addition to the person's prior history, the Board can also consider the person's conduct while in prison, including any classes or treatment that the person completes while in prison, or any rule violations committed by the person while in prison. The Board can also consider family support, treatment options, job opportunities, or other factors that may contribute to the person's likelihood of success once released on parole.

For misdemeanor drug offenses, Utah criminal law provides for "determinate" sentences. This means that if the judge imposes jail, it will be for a specified number of days. County jails have statutory authority to reduce this amount of time based on an inmates good behavior. But a jail does not have the same broad discretion that is had by the Board of Pardons and Parole to determine the length of incarceration.

What drug crimes in Utah are charged as felonies?

Since the 2015 legislative amendments to the Utah criminal code, the number of felony drug prosecutions has dramatically dropped. Except in cases where an enhancement applies, so-called "simple" possession is now normally filed as a misdemeanor regardless of what drug is involved. (Previously, most of the "harder" drugs, including methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and many prescription drugs would result in a felony charge even without any element of distribution.) Simple possession of marijuana was not affected by these amendments, and without enhancements continues to be filed as a class B misdemeanor. Possession of drug paraphernalia is also typically charged as a class B misdemeanor.

Felony drug charges now most often involve distribution of or the intent to distribute a controlled substance. Simple possession charges can still be enhanced to the felony level based on prior convictions or proximity to a "drug-free" zone (as defined in statute by the legislature). Because most of these felony drug charges involve allegations of distribution, prosecutors and judges tend to take them much more seriously.

Finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Davis County

Facing prosecution for drug crimes in Davis County can carry serious consequences. Choosing the right defense attorney to handle your case is one of the most important decisions you will make.With offices in Davis County and in Salt Lake City, criminal lawyer Stephen Howard has successfully protected his clients' rights in drug cases ranging from first degree felony distribution to misdemeanor marijuana possession. He is also one of only a few criminal defense attorneys now in private practice who has previously worked as defense counsel in one of Utah's felony drug court programs.

Contact us today to see how we can help you.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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