Is There Mandatory Jail Time for Drug Charges in Utah?

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

Thousands of people are arrested for drug crimes every year in Utah. Regardless of whether a drug offense is classified as a felony or misdemeanor, the penalties can be severe – particularly if the offense involves manufacturing, selling, trafficking, or otherwise distributing controlled substances. If a family member has been arrested on drug possession charges, possession of drug paraphernalia, or other criminal charges involving narcotics, you should contact a Salt Lake City criminal lawyer immediately. As this article explains, there are some situations where a drug-related conviction can lead to mandatory jail time.

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Utah Controlled Substance Laws

Drug charge sentencing can be rather harsh in Utah, particularly when the defendant has a history of prior offenses. However, effective legal representation by a Salt Lake City drug crime lawyer increases the odds that the defendant will be able to avoid jail time and receive more lenient penalties, such as probation and fines. Some defendants are eligible for Utah’s Drug Court program, which allows convicted offenders to not only avoid incarceration, but also have their charges dismissed in exchange for successfully completing certain rehabilitation requirements.

Unfortunately, not all defendants are eligible for Drug Court, such as defendants who have been convicted of violent crimes. In such cases, the judge may impose a lengthy jail or prison sentence. The question is, how much jail time can you get for selling, possessing, or trafficking drugs? And are there any drug charges that can lead to mandatory sentencing? Continue reading to see some common types of drug charges and hear an overview of drug-related sentencing in Utah.

Drug Possession Penalties in Utah

This section will focus on drug possession for personal use, which is also called “simple” possession. For an explanation of possession with intent to distribute, scroll down to the next section.

Simple possession is prosecuted under Utah Code § 58-37-8(2)(a)(i), which makes it a crime “for any person knowingly and intentionally to possess or use a… controlled substance,” unless the person had a prescription from a licensed physician. This offense is a…

  • Third degree felony, if the substance was a Schedule I drug or Schedule II drug, and it is the defendant’s third or subsequent conviction.

 

  • Class A misdemeanor, if the substance was a Schedule I drug or Schedule II drug, and it is the defendant’s first or second conviction.

 

  • Class B misdemeanor, in other situations (e.g. the substance was a Schedule IV drug).

There is no mandatory sentence for simple possession in Utah. However, the judge may impose a sentence ranging anywhere from up to six months in jail (the maximum sentence for a Class B misdemeanor) to 15 years in prison (the maximum sentence for a second degree felony).

Possession with Intent to Distribute Penalty

Possession with intent to distribute (PWID) is a more serious charge than simple possession. As a result, the punishment can be harsher if the defendant pleads or is found guilty, particularly if the defendant was involved in gang activity or organized crime. PWID is a…

  • Class A misdemeanor, if the substance was a Schedule V drug.

 

  • Third degree felony, if:
    • The substance was a Schedule III drug, Schedule IV drug, or marijuana.
    • The substance was a Schedule V drug, and it is the defendant’s second or subsequent conviction.

 

  • Second degree felony, if:
    • The substance was a Schedule I drug, Schedule II drug, or GHB.
    • The substance was a Schedule III drug, Schedule IV drug, or marijuana, and it is the defendant’s second or subsequent conviction.

 

  • First degree felony, if the substance was a Schedule I drug, Schedule II drug, or GHB, and it is he defendant’s second or subsequent conviction. A first degree felony may result in a life sentence.

Schedule V controlled substances include:

  • Lomotil
  • Robitussin AC

Schedule IV controlled substances include:

  • Ambien
  • Valium
  • Xanax

Schedule III controlled substances include:

  • Ketamine
  • Steroids

Schedule II controlled substances include:

  • Adderall
  • Cocaine
  • Dilaudid
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone
  • Methamphetamine
  • OxyContin
  • Vicodin

Schedule I controlled substances include:

  • Heroin
  • LSD (Acid)
  • MDMA (Ecstasy)
  • Peyote

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Mandatory Minimum Sentences for First Offense Drug Trafficking

Most drug crimes in Utah, though subject to potentially tough penalties, do not carry mandatory minimum sentencing requirements. There is, however, one major exception: drug trafficking.

Unlike simple possession and PWID, which are typically prosecuted at the state level – for example, a defendant being prosecuted for misdemeanor possession in Salt Lake City Justice Court – drug trafficking charges are often filed at the federal level. There are many factors that determine whether a defendant will be charged with a federal crime or state crime, but the simplest way to describe it is that crimes which cross state lines are generally federal offenses – for instance, transporting drugs between Utah and Nevada or Colorado.

Federal law defines drug trafficking as “any felony punishable under the Controlled Substances Act… the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act… or chapter 705 of title 46,” which includes crimes like manufacturing and distributing. Federal law also creates stiff mandatory minimums for drug trafficking crimes under 21 U.S. Code § 841(b). The mandatory minimum sentence for a federal drug offense depends on:

  • The type and quantity of the substance involved.
  • How many prior offenses the defendant has been convicted of, if any.
  • Whether anyone was killed or seriously injured.

Depending on these factors, the mandatory minimums for federal drug crimes include the following prison terms:

  • 5 years in prison (e.g. first offense, manufacturing 100 grams or more of heroin)
  • 10 years in prison (e.g. first offense, manufacturing 1 kilogram/1,000 grams or more of heroin)
  • 20 years in prison (e.g. second offense, manufacturing 1 kilogram/1,000 grams or more of heroin)
  • Life sentence (e.g. second offense, manufacturing 1 kilogram/1,000 grams or more of heroin, resulting in death or serious bodily injury)

Contact a Salt Lake City Drug Crime Lawyer

It is in your best interests to contact a Salt Lake drug possession attorney if you or a loved one has been charged with simple possession, PWID, possession of paraphernalia, prescription drug crimes, drug trafficking, or other narcotics offenses in Utah. The penalties you face are serious, but a Salt Lake City drug possession lawyer may be able to beat the charges, obtain lighter penalties, or achieve another favorable outcome for your case. For a free and confidential legal consultation, contact the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 today.

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