How Many Years Does Utah’s Gang Sentencing Enhancement Add to a Prison Term?

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When a defendant is convicted of a crime in Utah, he or she may be sentenced to serve time in a state prison (for a felony conviction) or a county jail (for a misdemeanor conviction).  This sentence can be dramatically extended if the crime was committed in connection with a street gang, or even with multiple people who aren’t gang members.  Salt Lake City gang crime lawyer Darwin Overson explains which offenses the enhancement applies to, and discusses how much longer Utah’s gang sentencing enhancement can make a prison sentence.

Charged with a Gang Crime in Utah? Extra Years Could Be Added to Your Sentence

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There are six types of crimes in Utah: three types of misdemeanors, and three types of felonies.  There is a predetermined sentencing range for crimes in each of these categories, as follows:

  • Class C Misdemeanors – Up to 3 months in jail
  • Class B Misdemeanors – Up to 6 months in jail
  • Class A Misdemeanors – Up to 1 year in jail
  • Third Degree Felonies – 0 (probation) to 5 years in prison
  • Second Degree Felonies – 1 to 15 years in prison
  • First Degree Felonies – 5 years to life in prison

These are the sentencing possibilities that apply in most cases, but exceptions exist for certain crimes.  For example, rape is a first degree felony, which normally carries a sentence of five years to life.  However, Utah’s rape statute, Utah Code § 76-5-402, lists a few scenarios where the sentence range should be 15 years to life, making the minimum sentence at least three times longer than it normally would be (15 years instead of five years).

A similar idea applies to the punishment of gang crimes.  But before we explain how gang crimes are sentenced in Utah, let’s review what a “gang crime” actually is.

You’re already familiar with the basic idea of what a gang is: a group of people who engage in organized crime, often involving gambling, prostitution, weapons sales, and/or drug sales.  However, you don’t actually need to be in what most people think of as a “gang” for the sentencing enhancement to apply.  A sentence can also be extended if the person acts “in concert with two or more persons,” meaning the defendant was helped or even encouraged by two or more people who were physically present at the scene of the crime.  In this way, committing a crime with other people can cause extra time to be added to your sentence, even if you and those people weren’t actually in a gang.

These provisions come from Utah Code § 76-3-203.1.  Specifically, under Utah Code § 76-3-203.1(2), “A person who commits any offense listed in Subsection (5)” – which we’ll get to in just a few moments – “is subject to an enhanced penalty for the offense… if the [court] finds beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant:

  • Acted in concert with two or more people.
  • Acted in order to help a gang.
  • Acted “in association with” a gang.  Notice that membership in the gang is not actually necessary.
  • Acted at the gang’s instruction (i.e. a gang member told the defendant to commit a crime).
  • Acted “to gain recognition, acceptance, membership, or increased status with a criminal street gang.”

Which Offenses Does the Sentencing Enhancement Apply to, and How Long are Jail or Prison Terms Extended?

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Now that you understand the general situations where the sentencing enhancement applies, you need to know:

  • Which offenses it includes.
  • How much it can lengthen a jail or prison sentence.

The answer to the first question is found under Utah Code § 76-3-203.1(5), which lists out all of the offenses the gang sentencing enhancement applies to.  These offenses include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Assault and Related Offenses
    • Aggravated Assault
    • Assault (Simple Assault)
    • Child Abuse
    • Harassment
    • Mayhem
    • Stalking
  • Burglary, Theft, and Robbery Crimes
    • Aggravated Burglary
    • Aggravated Robbery
    • Burglary
    • Possession of Burglar’s Tools
    • Robbery
    • Shoplifting (Retail Theft)
    • Theft
    • Trespassing (Criminal Trespass)
  • Drug Crimes
    • Drug Possession
    • Drug Distribution
    • Drug Manufacturing/Production
  • Felony Sex Crimes
    • Aggravated Sexual Assault
    • Child Pornography (Sexual Exploitation of a Minor)
    • Object Rape
    • Rape
  • Homicide Offenses 
    • Aggravated Murder
    • Homicide by Assault
    • Murder 
  • Kidnapping Offenses
    • Aggravated Human Trafficking
    • Aggravated Kidnapping
    • Child Kidnapping
    • Human Trafficking
    • Kidnapping
  • Property Destruction 
    • Arson
    • Graffiti
    • Vandalism (Criminal Mischief)

The second question is answered by Utah Code § 76-3-203.1(4), which explains how sentencing changes when the enhancement is applied.  Here is how much your sentence could be lengthened:

  • A Class B misdemeanor (maximum six-month sentence) will turn into a Class A misdemeanor (maximum one-year sentence).  That doubles the maximum sentence, adding a total of six months.
  • A Class A misdemeanor (maximum one-year sentence) will turn into a third degree felony (maximum five-year sentence).  That quintuples the maximum sentence, adding a total of four years.
  • A third degree felony (maximum five-year sentence) will turn into a second degree felony (maximum 15-year sentence).  That triples the maximum sentence, adding a full decade.
  • A second degree felony (maximum 15-year sentence) will turn into a first degree felony (maximum life sentence).  Instead of being released after 15 years, you could be forced to spend the rest of your life in prison.

If you or someone you love has been accused of committing a gang crime in Utah, or of committing a crime with help from other people, extremely harsh sentencing enhancements could apply.  It’s critically important that you seek legal help from a tough, experienced, and knowledgeable Utah defense attorney as soon as possible.  Call the law offices of Overson & Sheen immediately at (801) 758-2287 for a free legal consultation.