What Are the Consequences if an Inmate Tries to Escape from a County Jail in Utah?

No one wants to find themselves in jail.  Some inmates, like the man who attempted to break out of Utah’s Tooele County Jail last month, decide to gamble on an escape.  No one would deny that jail is an unpleasant place to be, but escape attempts can result in even worse consequences for the inmate or detainee.

Man Charged with Resisting Arrest After Attempted Escape from Tooele County Detention Center

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The Tooele County Detention Center, better known as the Tooele County Jail, houses inmates who have been convicted of felonies and misdemeanors.

In August, inmate Michael Lee Richards, 42, who was incarcerated for violating a protective order in Utah, was temporarily released from the facility in order to attend a court-ordered medical appointment.  Richards disappeared from his mother’s home while out on release for the appointment.

When Richards failed to return from his trip to the bathroom, his mother alerted the Tooele County Sheriff’s Department, leading to an hour-long search effort that ended when the Department, working with Tooele County police officers, received a tip via phone.

According to Lieutenant Ron Johnson, who serves on the Tooele County Sheriff’s Department, “A resident of Pine Canyon, which is about two miles east of Tooele, called and said there was a subject, a suspicious male subject going into a house there.  There was a deputy close by,” Lt. Johnson reported.  “He responded and actually got into a foot pursuit with the subject and called out his name, asked him to stop.”

The deputy continued pursuit in his vehicle, quickly overtaking the fleeing Richards, who was still on foot.

“When the subject got tired,” Lt. Johnson explained, “he got out and approached him and was able to take him into custody.”

So what were the consequences of Richardson’s short-lived escape?

“He is getting charged with resistance because he wasn’t complying with the orders,” Lt. Johnson said.  “We were glad to have him back into custody in such a short time.  It’s rare that this stuff happens but we’re glad to have him back.”

Criminal Penalties for Breaking Out of Jail Under Utah Code 76-8-309

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Lt. Johnson referred to Richards being charged with “resistance,” which refers to resisting arrest, otherwise known as interference with an arresting officer, a crime under Utah Code § 76-8-305.  Resisting arrest is a Class B misdemeanor, which is less serious than a Class A misdemeanor, but more serious than a Class C misdemeanor.

Criminal penalties for a Class B misdemeanor in Utah can include a fine of up to $1,000, and up to six months in jail.  Violating a protective order – the offense for which Richards was serving time prior to his attempted escape – is a Class A misdemeanor, for which the maximum jail sentence is one year.  Simply by resisting arrest, Richards may have increased his sentence by as much as 50%, adding up to six months to a maximum one-year sentence.

Attempting to escape from jail or prison is a far more serious crime, because it is classified as a felony rather than a misdemeanor.  Like misdemeanors, Utah has three types of non-capital felonies: third degree, second degree, and first degree felonies.  Under Utah Code § 76-8-309, escaping from a correctional facility can fall into any of these categories, depending on the circumstances of the actual or attempted jail or prison break.

Richards attempted to escape from the Tooele County Detention Center, which is a county jail, not a state prison.  This distinction is important, because jail and prison breaks are treated differently under state law.

There are many county jails scattered throughout Utah, but only two state prisons that remain in operation today: Utah State Prison, which is located in Draper, and Central Utah Correctional Facility, which is located in Gunnison.

When an inmate attempts to escape from a state prison, it is a felony of the second degree.  Escaping a county jail, like the Tooele County Detention Center, is a third degree felony.  While both are very serious, a third degree felony has lighter criminal penalties.  A second degree felony can lead to a fine of up to $10,000 and up to 15 years in prison, whereas a third degree felony can lead to a fine of $5,000 and up to five years in prison.

If an inmate seriously injures someone (which can also lead to being charged with assault in Utah), or uses a weapon in the process of escape (which can lead to being charged with weapons possession with criminal intent), the crime is charged as aggravated escape, which is a first degree felony: the most serious type of charge short of a capital crime.  Conviction of a first degree felony can result in a fine of $10,000 – and, depending on the situation, a potential sentence of life in prison.

The bottom line is that trying to escape from jail will only extend the inmate’s sentence, ultimately worsening the very conditions he or she sought to avoid in the first place.

What to Do if a Family Member is Being Detained at a County Jail in Utah

If you are concerned that a loved one is being mistreated at a county jail in Utah, or if you think your loved one’s Constitutional rights have in any way been violated, encouraging them to escape is not the right way to handle the situation.  Instead, you should contact a Tooele County criminal defense lawyer for immediate legal assistance.  An experienced criminal attorney can intervene on your loved one’s behalf, without creating the risk of an even longer sentence.

If one of your loved ones was recently arrested and you have questions about legal issues like how long an inmate can be held in custody, the Tooele County Jail visiting hours, how to contact an inmate at the Tooele County Jail, or any other matters related to criminal charges in Tooele County, we urge you to contact the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 for a free and completely confidential legal consultation.  Tooele defense attorney Darwin Overson is ready to make emergency jail visits.