About Utah Crime Aggravated Murder Under Code 76-5-202

Aggravated murder is the only capital felony in Utah.  That means a defendant can receive the death penalty if he or she is found guilty.  Even if the prosecutor does not seek the death sentence, the defendant still faces devastating criminal consequences, including decades or life in prison.

Capital murder is the most serious crime a defendant can be charged with in the state of Utah.  If one of your family members has been arrested for aggravated murder, it is absolutely imperative that you seek quality legal representation immediately.  Your loved one’s future is at stake.

Seek support from our experienced criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC by calling (801) 758-2287.

How is Aggravated Murder Defined in Utah?

Under Utah Code § 76-5-202, a suspect can be charged with aggravated murder when he or she allegedly commits homicide and certain additional factors are present.  These factors include:

  • Causing the death of two or more people.
  • Creating a major risk of death to someone other than the victim.
  • Committing homicide for pay or financial gain.
  • Committing homicide in a county jail, prison, or other correctional facility.
  • Having previous convictions of, or committing homicide while committing or attempting to commit, the following crimes:
  • Aggravated burglary, robbery, or sexual assault.
  • Murder, aggravated murder, or attempted murder.
  • Kidnapping or child kidnapping.
  • Rape or object rape.

Accordingly, there are several forms of criminal misconduct that can give rise to aggravated murder charges. When determining whether such a charge is warranted, our criminal defense lawyers will perform a thorough analysis of your case to identify whether one of the aforementioned factors is actually present.

What Makes Murder Aggravated in Utah?

In Utah, a murder becomes “aggravated” when it involves one of the previously mentioned circumstances that increases the severity of the offense. In general, these circumstances include factors that denote a higher degree of premeditation, brutality, or risk associated with the murder at issue.

What Happens After You Are Arrested for Aggravated Murder in Utah?

There are three basic situations where a person can be arrested in Utah:

  1. A police officer intervenes against an apparent crime in progress.
  2. A police officer has probable cause to believe that a crime has been or will be committed.
  3. The police obtain a warrant for the suspect’s arrest from a judge in advance.

After a suspect has been arrested, he or she should only be held in custody for 72 hours at most while the prosecutor determines whether to formally file charges.  Unfortunately, prosecutors are often granted lengthy extensions which can result in suspects being detained for weeks.  This is a violation of the detainee’s legal rights.  Darwin has repeatedly challenged this unacceptable practice, and will do so on your loved one’s behalf.

The defendant will not be tried until he or she has gone through several other court appearances first.  During one of the first hearings, called the preliminary hearing (“prelim”), the court will review the evidence to determine whether there is probable cause to believe the suspect could possibly be guilty.  If the court finds there is probable cause, the case will proceed; but if not, the defendant must be released and the case must be dismissed.  Darwin will dispute and question every last detail of your arrest and the alleged evidence against you in the fight to prove there is no probable cause.

What Are The Penalties for Aggravated Murder in Utah?

Aggravated murder is a felony offense.  While other Utah felonies are designated as third degree, second degree, or first degree felonies, aggravated murder stands alone as Utah’s only capital felony.  That means aggravated murder is the only crime in Utah for which capital punishment – the death penalty – is a sentencing possibility.

While this is a devastating prospect for defendants and their loved ones, it is highly unusual for Utah prosecutors to seek a sentence of capital punishment.  The state of Utah has executed a total of seven individuals since 1977.  More typically, aggravated murder is charged as a non-capital first degree felony, in which case the prosecutor may seek a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.  At minimum, the defendant is facing a sentence of 25 years in prison if convicted.

Defending Against an Aggravated Murder Charge in Utah

Fortunately, there are multiple defenses that may be employed by those who are accused of aggravated murder. After thoroughly reviewing the specifics of your case, our legal professionals can determine whether any of the following may be utilized:


First, you may be able to avoid a conviction for aggravated murder by asserting self-defense. Generally, to assert this defense, you must be able to prove that you were under an immediate threat of death or serious bodily harm. Further, you must show that your response to the threat was reasonable and proportionate.

Defense of Others

Similarly, you may be able to defend against an aggravated murder charge by arguing that you were protecting others from immediate harm. To establish this defense, you must be able to prove that you prove that your intervention was necessary to prevent imminent danger to someone else.

Similar to the process of asserting self-defense, asserting the defense of others will involve proving that your responded reasonably and proportionately to the perceived threat.


An alibi defense can be very effective in an aggravated murder case. This type of defense involves asserting that you were not present at the scene of the crime when the illegal act at issue was committed.

There are several types of evidence that may be used to support an alibi. For instance, surveillance recordings, witness testimonies, and electronic GPS data may all be presented. Our legal team can help track down the best evidence to use for an alibi defense in your case.

Mistaken Identity

Utilizing a mistaken identity defense will involve proving that the wrong person has been accused of the aggravated murder at issue. For example, such a defense may be presented if there has been an incorrect witness identification, a misinterpretation of forensic evidence, or an improper reliance on flawed digital evidence.

How a Utah Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help with Your Case

When you or one of your loved ones has been charged with committing a felony, you need to ensure that a highly experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer will be there to protect your Constitutional rights, prepare you for court appearances, and vigorously challenge the evidence against you.  Utah aggravated murder attorney Darwin Overson has over 16 years of legal experience and has handled thousands of criminal cases across the state of Utah, including Salt Lake County, Wasatch County, Utah County, Davis County, Weber County, Tooele County, and Summit County.

During his many years handling homicide cases, Darwin has built a reputation as a tough, persistent, and innovative courtroom opponent who fights hard and does not back down from difficult circumstances.  We know how anxious and overwhelmed you and your loved ones are feeling right now, but know that you can depend on Darwin to stand by your side with around-the-clock legal support.

Call Our Attorneys for Help After Being Charged with Aggravated Murder in Utah

If one of your loved ones has been charged with committing aggravated murder in Utah, there is not a moment to waste reviewing your legal options and preparing a defense strategy.  Even if it is the middle of the night on a weekend, we urge you to call Salt Lake City aggravated murder lawyer Darwin Overson immediately at (801) 758-2287 to set up a free and completely confidential legal consultation.