What Happens if You’re Charged with Multiple Criminal Counts in Salt Lake?
You’ve probably read dozens of news articles with headlines that sound like this: “Salt Lake City man charged with multiple counts of theft,” or, “Utah woman facing multiple murder charges.” But what does being charged with multiple counts actually mean from a legal standpoint? Why would a defendant be charged with more than one “count” of the same offense? And can a defendant be convicted on certain counts, but not others? This article explains some key information about how multiple criminal charges work in Utah, but you should contact an experienced Salt Lake City theft defense attorney as soon as possible if you or a family member has been accused of committing a crime.
What Does it Mean if You Get Charged with Multiple Criminal Counts?
Put simply, each criminal charge equals one “count.” However, a defendant can be charged with numerous counts arising from a single incident.
For example, if a defendant allegedly gets into a bar fight against three other people, then he or she could potentially be charged with three “counts” of simple assault arising from the same scuffle. Only one type of crime was committed, but the defendant committed three distinct offenses by allegedly assaulting three separate people.
Penalties and Sentencing if You are Convicted of More Than One Offense in Utah
So, if the defendant is convicted or pleads guilty, what does this actually mean in terms of criminal penalties? Let’s continue using our example above.
Under Utah Code § 76-5-102, the crime of simple assault can be graded as a Class B or Class A misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. Class B misdemeanors carry a maximum sentence of six months in jail, while Class A misdemeanors can result in up to one year.
For clarity’s sake, let’s assume that each of our hypothetical defendant’s counts of simple assault are being graded as Class A misdemeanors. There are a few different outcomes which could result from this scenario:
- The defendant is acquitted on all counts, meaning he or she is found not guilty of any of the charges. Therefore, there are no criminal penalties.
- The defendant is found guilty on one count, but acquitted on the other two. Therefore, the defendant faces up to one year in jail. (If the count was a Class B misdemeanor, the sentence would be up to half a year in jail.)
- The defendant is found guilty on two counts, but acquitted on the remaining count. Therefore, the defendant faces up to two years in jail. (If both counts were Class B misdemeanors, the sentence would be up to one year in jail.)
- The defendant is found guilty on all three counts. Therefore, the defendant faces up to three years in jail. (If all three counts were Class B misdemeanors, the sentence would be up to 18 months in jail.)
In real life, of course, it is possible that our defendant’s simple assault charges could be graded as a mix of Class B and Class A misdemeanors, depending on how badly each victim was hurt. Simple assault is graded as a Class A misdemeanor only in cases where the defendant either (1) knew the victim was pregnant at the time of the offense, or (2) caused “substantial” bodily injury, which is legally defined to include any injury that results in lasting pain, temporary disfigurement, or temporary impairment.
Substantial injury is less severe than “serious” injury, infliction of which can lead to the defendant being charged with aggravated assault under Utah Code § 76-5-103. Serious bodily injury is defined to mean any injury that “creates or causes serious permanent disfigurement,” “creates a substantial risk of death,” or results in the long-term “loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ.”
While simple assault is a misdemeanor, aggravated assault is charged as a third degree or second degree felony, punishable by up to five or 15 years in prison, respectively. If our imaginary defendant was found guilty on three counts of aggravated assault, rather than three counts of simple assault, then he or she would be looking at a maximum sentence ranging anywhere from 15 to 45 years, instead of “just” three years. Since felonies already carry much longer sentences than misdemeanors, multiple felony counts can be incredibly devastating if the defendant pleads or is found guilty.
How Criminal History Affects Bail Amounts for Defendants in Custody in Jail
It’s important to understand that having a history of multiple offenses can result in the imposition of harsher sentences if a defendant is ever convicted again in the future. If a defendant is convicted on two (or more) counts, he or she will enter any future trials with two (or more) prior offenses in his or her criminal history.
In addition to spurring tougher sentences in the future, a history of previous offenses can also cause a criminal suspect’s bail amount to skyrocket. For example, the Utah bail schedule, which helps determine how judges set bail in Utah, provides a bail amount of $500 for Class A misdemeanors – but only if you have an “excellent” (clean) criminal history. If your record of prior offenses is “poor,” the bail amount quintuples to $2,500 – for the exact same type of crime.
If you can’t afford the bail amount that has been set for your loved one, don’t panic – it may be possible to have the cost lowered. However, you should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer for help right away.
What is the Point of Having Multiple Life Sentences?
First degree felonies, a category which includes the most serious crimes like rape and murder, are punishable in Utah by a life sentence. In some situations – for example, a case in which a defendant who has certain prior sex crime convictions is convicted of rape – the defendant may even be sentenced to life without parole, or life without the possibility of release from prison.
It may appear illogical or redundant for courts to bother imposing multiple life sentences upon a defendant who gets convicted of multiple rape or murder counts, particularly if parole is not available. However, from the court’s perspective, the rationale is that defendants can potentially appeal, or challenge, a criminal conviction. If one life sentence is overturned, the other or others will still remain (unless they are also successfully appealed).
Does the Defendant Have to Go to Different Courts for Each Criminal Charge in Utah?
Under Utah Rule of Criminal Procedure 9.5, “Complaints, citations, or information charging multiple offenses, which may include violations of state laws, county ordinances, or municipal ordinances and [which] aris[e] from a single criminal episode… shall be filed in a single court that has jurisdiction of the charged offense with the highest possible penalty of all the offenses charged.” Moreover, “a single prosecutorial entity shall prosecute the offenses.”
In other words, the defendant would not have to appear in 10 separate courts on 10 separate occasions if he or she was being charged with 10 counts of a given offense. One prosecutor would handle all counts, and the case would be tried in a single court, depending on the severity of the offenses being charged.
For instance, Utah’s justice courts only have the legal authority to handle infractions (such as disorderly conduct) and lower level misdemeanors: specifically, Class C and Class B. If the defendant was being charged with a Class A misdemeanor, with a felony, or with a mix of Class A misdemeanors and felonies – for example, robbery or sexual assault – he or she would be sent to district court, because only district courts possess the authority to try felonies. If a person was charged with a felony and a Class B or Class C misdemeanor, he or she would have to be tried in district court, because Utah’s justice courts lack jurisdiction over felonies. That is what Rule 9.5 is referring to when it describes “a single court that has jurisdiction of the charged offense with the highest possible penalty of all the offenses charged.”
There are currently 71 district judges and 108 justice court judges serving in Utah. Jurisdiction is determined not only by the severity of an offense, but also by the county in which the charge is filed. While your criminal defense lawyer will make sure you know exactly where to go well in advance of the hearing or appearance, you can also use our reference article to help find your court in Salt Lake County.
To speak confidentially with Darwin about your criminal charges in a free legal consultation, call the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 733-1308 today.