Can You Be Arrested in Utah for Being “High” in Public?

Around the United States, drug laws are becoming more relaxed in many places as the nation re-examines the effects of the so-called “war on drugs” it has waged for past forty years. However, in Utah, the use of illegal drugs, including marijuana, remains a top law enforcement priority. If you are caught in possession of drugs in Utah, you can face severe consequences, including lengthy jail sentences. You may wonder, however, if being “high” on drugs can get you arrested if you are no longer actually in physical possession of the drug you consumed. Below, our experienced Salt Lake City drug crime defense attorneys at Overson & Bugden explore the potential consequences you can face if you are high in public.

Types of Arrests that Can Occur When You Are High in Public

In most instances where the police have reasonable suspicion that you are high, they can conduct a search of your person, vehicle, or belongings for evidence that you are in possession of an illegal drug. If an illegal drug is found, you can be arrested for possession. However, even if you have ingested the drug and thus do not have the physical substance on you anymore, there are still some instances where you can be arrested by the police.

Internal Possession in Utah

In Utah, the legislature has passed a law specifically criminalizing “internal possession” of a drug. Contrary to actual possession, when the drug is found on your person, or constructive possession, when the drug is found in an area under your control like the glovebox of your vehicle, internal possession occurs when drugs are found in the internal systems of your body.

While internal possession can be charged under the drug statutes in Utah, this charge is rarely used to prosecute people for being high in public. To prove this charge, the prosecutor must show that someone either ingested a controlled substance or has “any measurable amount of a controlled substance in [that] person’s body.” While this could technically be used to charge you with being high in public, there are many reasons why this would be an uphill climb for police. Mainly, officers are not permitted simply to approach you on the street and force you to take a drug test. As such, this crime is usually only charged when the results of a previously ordered drug test show drugs in someone’s system.

Intoxication in Utah

Many people confuse the Utah crime of intoxication with what is known as “public intoxication” in many other states. However, in Utah, intoxication can also be charged if you are in a private place like your own home. In private, the standard is whether you are intoxicated by a substance to the point where you “unreasonably disturb other persons.”

In public, the standard is whether you are intoxicated to a degree that you may endanger yourself or another person. Intoxication can be with alcohol or with illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or unprescribed prescription drugs, among many others. Police do not need to actually prove you where intoxicated through some sort of blood or urine test; the testimony of the officer and other witnesses about your behavior and appearance indicating you were “high” would be enough for an arrest if they can also show you were a danger to yourself or others.

Whether you might endanger yourself or others is a highly subjective standard. An experienced intoxication attorney like those at Overson & Bugden can defend you against charges of being intoxicated in public. We will challenge the testimony of the officers and witnesses and, if possible, present our own witnesses to argue that your actions never made you a danger to yourself or other people.

DUI in Utah

One situation where the police certainly have the ability to arrest you for being high in public is if you are driving a vehicle. Most DUI stops occur when someone is committing some sort of traffic offense or is driving erratically. Once you have been pulled over, the officer will observe if you are acting strange or fidgety, if your eyes are bloodshot, or if you or the car smell like marijuana or some other illegal drug. If so, they will likely ask you to exit the vehicle so they can conduct a roadside sobriety test.

DUI can be charged for drug intoxication as well as alcohol intoxication. If the officer believes they have probable cause to arrest you for a marijuana DUI or DUI involving another drug, they will take you back to the station where you will be required to undergo a blood or urine test. Under Utah law, you can be convicted of DUI for having mere trace amounts of a drug metabolite in your system when you are driving, even if you consumed it days before.

Penalties for Being High in Public in Utah

The penalties for being high in public will depend on which crime you are actually charged with. Internal possession will be charged as possession of a controlled substance. The penalties for this crime depend on which type of controlled substance you are found to have possessed and how much is found in your possession. Longer jail sentences and fines will be imposed for possession of heroin and cocaine than for possession of marijuana. Even for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana, however, you can face up to 6 months in Utah jail.

Intoxication is a Class C Misdemeanor in Utah, so the maximum possible sentence is 90 days in jail and up to a $750 fine. For your first DUI conviction, you will spend between 2 and 180 days in jail, face fines of at least $1,310, and have your license suspended for 120 days. With each successive DUI conviction, the penalties will get harsher.

Call Our Salt Lake City Drug Defense Lawyers About Your Charges for Being High in Public

While being high in public will not always automatically lead to a criminal charge, there are a variety of ways that this behavior can lead to such charges. If you act in an aggressive or disrespectful manner or get behind the wheel or a vehicle while high, criminal charges are likely to follow. An experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden can help defend you from these charges and work to get them downgraded or dismissed. For a free, confidential consultation, call us today at (801) 758-2287.