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Do Not Plead Guilty at Arraignment in Utah

It is sometimes easy to underestimate the serious nature of a misdemeanor charge. Because it is not a felony, many people do not realize the serious and lasting consequences associated with a misdemeanor conviction. Some individuals have represented themselves and entered a guilty at an arraignment hearing, only to learn after the fact that there are important collateral consequences to their pleas. If you are facing a misdemeanor prosecution, having the assistance of an experienced criminal attorney can be vital to ensuring that your rights are protected. Contact us today to see how we can help you.

Should I plead guilty if the prosecutor recommends no jail?

The first court hearing in a misdemeanor case is typically called an arraignment. At the arraignment hearing, the judge will ask the defendant to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. Sometimes, a prosecutor is present at the arraignment hearing and makes an offer to the defendant, whereby the prosecutor agrees to recommend probation rather than jail if the defendant enters a plea of guilty.

Many individuals facing misdemeanor prosecution have no experience in the criminal court system - it may be their first time facing a criminal charge. An offer from the prosecutor that seems to avoid jail may seem like a tempting offer. But there are a variety of factors to consider before accepting such an offer.

Most often, a "no jail" recommendation from the prosecutor really means a "suspended jail" recommendation. In other words, if the judge follows the prosecutor's recommendation (which is generally not guaranteed), the judge will "suspend" the jail term and place the defendant on probation. If the defendant complies with all terms of probation, then the case can be closed successfully. But if the defendant fails to comply with all of the conditions of probation imposed by the court (e.g. missing fine payments, not completing community service, missing a check-in date with a probation officer, being arrested on a new charge), then the judge may issue an order to show cause and impose all of the original jail time.

How can a misdemeanor conviction affect me?

It is important to understand that pleading guilty - even to a minor misdemeanor charge and even some traffic citations - will result in a criminal conviction which can be reported on a criminal history report. Too many convictions can disqualify a person for expungement eligibility. Criminal convictions can also make it more difficult to get a job or rent an apartment. Some misdemeanor convictions can result in a driver license suspension, or may disqualify a person from receiving federal financial aid for college. Other misdemeanor convictions can affect a person's right to own or carry firearms, which in turn will prevent the person from hunting. Some misdemeanor convictions will require a defendant to provide a DNA sample to be placed into a state database. Other misdemeanor convictions can be used to enhance subsequent charges, sometimes turning what would otherwise have been a misdemeanor charge into a felony case. Even after jail time is done, probation is completed, and the court case is closed, there can be consequences to a misdemeanor conviction that can last a lifetime.

What are the maximum penalties for a misdemeanor in Utah?

Maximum penalties for a misdemeanor conviction can be very harsh. Most often a judge will not impose the maximum sentence up front, but will suspend all or part of the sentence. If a defendant completes probation successfully, then the suspended sentence is never imposed. But if a defendant violates probation or if the judge refuses to grant probation, the maximum penalties for a misdemeanor are severe.

Even the lowest level misdemeanor, class C, carries a potential of up to 90 days in jail and over a thousand dollars in fines (including surcharges). A class B misdemeanor carries a possible sentence of 180 days in jail and nearly two thousand dollars in fines (including surcharges). A class A misdemeanor, the most serious misdemeanor, can be punished by up to a year in jail and nearly five thousand dollars in fines (including surcharges).

Finding a Criminal Defense Attorney for Misdemeanors in Utah

Utah Criminal Defense LawyerA misdemeanor conviction in Utah can carry lasting consequences. Even minor charges where the prosecutor is not initially seeking jail time can still result in jail and other serious consequences. Having an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side can be the best way to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact us today to see the difference right defense attorney can make.


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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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