Can You Appeal a DUI Conviction in Utah?

Utah has some of the harshest laws against drunk driving. Facing a DUI charge in Utah should not be taken lightly. While most states require that a person have a blood alcohol concentration of at least .08% to be charged with a DUI, Utah is stricter and will impose DUI charges for driving with a BAC of .05% or more. If convicted, you could face jail time, fines, a driver’s license suspension, and more. If you or a loved one was charged with a DUI in Salt Lake City or anywhere else in Utah, you need immediate legal representation. For almost twenty years, Salt Lake City DUI lawyer Darwin Overson of Overson Law has handled hundreds of DUI cases throughout the state. Read on as we discuss more about DUI sentences in Utah and the possibilities of appealing your case.

What Happens During a DUI Arrest in Utah?

If you are pulled over by a police officer for driving under the influence, that officer may arrest you without a warrant. An arrest warrant is not required for a DUI arrest if the officer has probable cause that a DUI violation has in fact occurred and that you are the person responsible. The officer does not need to witness you driving in order to make the arrest. When you are arrested for a DUI in Utah, you’ll face both criminal charges and a suspension of your driver’s license. Additionally, your vehicle will most likely be impounded.

Following your arrest, you can expect to be charged with a DUI. The exact nature of your charges, whether they be a misdemeanor or felony charges, will depend on your unique circumstances. Get in touch with a Utah DUI lawyer to help you with your DUI defense as quickly as possible. Police will also confiscate your driver’s license when you’re arrested and will issue a citation that serves as a temporary driving permit for the next 29 days, after which you’ll have 10 days to request a hearing with your county’s Driver’s License Division from the Utah Department of Public Safety. If you do not schedule a hearing, your license will be suspended for at least 120 days.

Can You Appeal a DUI Sentence in Utah?

The short answer to this question is yes; you can appeal your DUI conviction. However, there are relevant facts to consider before deciding to appeal your DUI case. Before deciding to appeal your case, you should be aware of which court has jurisdiction over your case and discuss your appeal with a Salt Lake City criminal appeals attorney.

There are two primary types of courts that hear trials in Utah: the justice courts and the district courts. The justice courts are in charge of overseeing lesser criminal charges such as Class C and B misdemeanors, among others. District courts, on the other hand, have general jurisdiction to hear trials for more serious criminal charges such as Class A misdemeanors and all felonies.

Appealing from a Justice Court

Which court hears your case heavily affects the appeals process. An appeal from a justice court to a district court requires an entirely new trial, thus allowing you a second opportunity to argue the facts and evidence against you. For example, if you appeal your Class C misdemeanor sentence, it means that you get a shot at a new trial because the trial from a justice court is appealed to the district court. Hearings in justice courts are not recorded, which means there is no record for the appellate court to review, so you get another shot at trial at a district court if you have problems at the justice court. This is referred to as a trial “de novo.” This simply means the case is tried over again from the beginning. In a justice court, a notice of appeal must be filed within 28 days from the date of your conviction in that court. Once the appeal is filed, any sentence you may face as a result of your conviction will be put on hold until your appeal is settled.

Your DUI case will likely be tried in a justice court in Utah if the circumstances surrounding your case are relatively minor. For example, a first-time offense for a driver over the age of 21 in which nobody was injured and there were no underage passengers will be a misdemeanor trial in a justice court. On the other hand, if you are appealing a felony charge, the appeals process becomes more difficult and stringent.

Appealing from a District Court

Appealing your sentence from a district court requires demonstrating that there were legal errors or rights violations that otherwise could have changed the outcome of your case. Unlike an appeal from a justice court, an appeal from a district court does not allow you to try your case all over again. Instead, the appellate court will review the district court’s record of your case without considering any new evidence or the credibility of witnesses. Instead of arguing the facts of your case, you must instead argue the law and legal issues of your case.

You typically need to file an appeals notice within 30 days of sentencing or you will forfeit your right to a “direct appeal.” Additionally, you would be required to file many different legal documents to support your claim. The support required for an appeals case is different than that required for your first trial. New facts or evidence will not help you as they will not be considered by the appellate court. Instead, you need to find reasons why the court misapplied the law to your case or perhaps even abused its discretion in deciding your case. The appeals process can be overwhelming, confusing, and stressful. A skilled and knowledgeable criminal appeals attorney can help you navigate through the complicated process.

If your appeal is ultimately denied, you may be able to appeal the case further to the Utah Supreme Court or even the U.S. Supreme Court. This requires a petition for “writ of certiorari,” which is essentially a request to the Utah Supreme Court or the U.S. Supreme Court to review your case. Filing the petition does not guarantee that your case will be heard. It is entirely in the discretion of either court to grant or deny your petition. If the court denies your petition, the decision of the lower court of appeals will be upheld. If your appeals are denied, you may have options to file a “collateral appeal” or petition for “post-conviction relief” for serious rights violations, though these are quite rare in DUI cases.

What to Expect During the DUI Process

Your hearing with the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Driver’s License Division is a chance for you to make a case for why you should be able to keep your license. An attorney can help you during this hearing by challenging evidence used against you and helping you make a case for why you should be able to keep your license. Generally, a suspension of your driver’s license will become effective 45 days after your arrest. Whether or not your license is suspended—and if it is, how long the driver’s license suspension will last—are determined by a few factors.


Drivers charged with DUIs that are over the age of 21 will face an automatic minimum suspension of 120 days. A driver under the age of 21 will face suspension for six months. If a minor driver refuses to submit to a chemical test, their license may be revoked until they are 21 years of age or for two years, whichever is longer. Also, anyone convicted of a DUI will be ignition interlock restricted. This means an ignition interlock device will be placed in your vehicle that prevents you from starting the vehicle if you have alcohol in your system. Common ignition interlock devices are breathalyzers attached to your vehicle that measure the amount of alcohol on your breath.  A driver under the age of 21 will be interlock restricted for 3 years. A driver over the age of 21 will be subjected to the same restriction for 18 months.

Previous DUI Convictions

Having previous DUI convictions on your record can increase your chances of having your license suspended and can increase the length of your suspension. For a person over the age of 21, a second DUI conviction, for example, can result in a license suspension lasting two years. A first-time DUI conviction will result in a suspension of 120 days. A driver under the age of 21 faces a suspension of 6 months for a first-time conviction. However, for a subsequent DUI, the suspension will last for two years or until the driver turns 21, whichever is longer. Someone convicted of a first-time or second-time DUI charge is guilty of a class B misdemeanor. Depending on your circumstances, two or more previous convictions may lead to your charges being upgraded to a third-degree felony.

Behavior During Your Arrest

The way you behaved during your DUI arrest will be taken into account during your hearing. If you refused to take a sobriety test, injured other people, or had a child in the car with you while you were driving under the influence, you can expect a lengthier license suspension and ultimately more penalties overall. Your charges may also be upgraded from a class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor, which carries harsher penalties. If someone is injured and their injuries are serious, the charges may be upgraded to a third-degree felony. Your charges will be similarly upgraded if you have multiple prior DUI convictions within 10 years of your current conviction. Each person injured as a result of your driving will result in a separate charge. The more people that are hurt, the more charges you will face.

What You Should Know About DUI

A DUI conviction in Utah is no laughing matter. While DUIs are considered lesser criminal offenses, they can still cause a big list of problems for convicted defendants. State law is strict when it comes to driving under the influence (DUI). The state prohibits a person with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more to operate or have immediate control of a vehicle. The limit will actually go down to .05% in 2019. This harsh limit has been imposed by the state to reduce alcohol-related car accidents within Utah’s borders.

Utah divides crimes into “misdemeanors” and “felonies,” each of which is subdivided into different categories with different penalties. For instance, misdemeanors are divided into Class A, B, and C misdemeanors. Penalties for misdemeanors in Utah are as follows:

Class C Misdemeanor

  • Sentence: Up to three months in jail
  • Fines: Up to $750

Class B Misdemeanor

  • Sentence: Up to six months in jail
  • Fines: Up to $1,000

Class A Misdemeanor

  • Sentence: Up to a year in jail
  • Fines: Up to $2,500

DUIs are classified misdemeanors in Utah. This means if you are charged with drunk driving, you could face jail time and steep fines.

Additionally, the penalties and charges can change depending on the situation surrounding your DUI case. For instance, if you are caught drunk driving for the first time, the arresting officer will likely charge you with a Class C misdemeanor that carries the most lenient penalties. However, things can take a turn for the worse if you had previous DUI sentences. For instance, if you had two previous DUI convictions within ten years, a third DUI would be considered a third-degree felony which carries severe consequences. A third-degree criminal conviction means you could face up to 5 years in prison and thousands of dollars in fines and costs.

On top of these penalties, DUI charges can also come with a driver’s license suspension, court fees, and increased insurance premiums.

Can You Appeal a License Suspension in Utah?

Note that while it is possible to appeal a DUI sentence, it is not possible to appeal driver’s license suspensions in Utah. Appeals can only be made based on a decision or error from a court within the court system. Since suspensions are automatic, bureaucratic actions under the control of the Department of Public Safety’s Driver’s License Division and not court decisions, you cannot normally appeal.

Instead, you can ask the court that imposed the suspension to reduce the length of the suspension. To do so, you must meet several criteria. These criteria include serving the first six months of your suspension and completing any alcohol screening imposed as part of your sentence. You must also avoid any traffic violations, such as speeding or red light tickets, as well as any unlawful consumption of alcohol during your suspension.

An appeal of your entire suspension may not be possible, but it is possible to fight a driver’s license suspension during a hearing with the Driver’s License Division of the Utah Department of Public Safety. You can work with an experienced attorney to find a way out of your suspension, which can involve taking a Defensive Driving Course in some cases. After the license suspension period has expired, it is possible to reinstate your license once you have completed specific requirements set by the Driver’s License Division. The requirements you need to fulfill to reinstate your license will vary depending on the nature of your case. Things like your age, your BAC, any previous DUIs, and any injuries suffered as a result of your driving will affect your reinstatement. It is crucial to seek help from an experienced Riverton City criminal defense attorney who can help you determine the exact steps needed to reinstate your driver’s license.

DUI Defense Lawyer Handling Misdemeanor and Felony DUI Charges and Appeals in Utah

You could face a long list of problems if you get charged and convicted for a DUI. The consequences of a DUI conviction may be very serious and long-lasting. However, there are ways to appeal your conviction and sentence. If you or a loved one was convicted of a DUI in Utah, you need to seek legal assistance from a skilled Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer. Darwin Overson knows the ins and outs of Utah’s criminal law and is ready to uphold your rights as a defendant. To learn more about your case in a free consultation, call the Utah criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 today.