Operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol will lead to a charge of driving under the influence (DUI). Most states issue DUIs for drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08% or more. Utah, however, is a bit stricter and imposes a DUI for a BAC of .05% or more.
You may plead guilty to a DUI, but you are not required to do so. Everyone has the right to fight their charges in a court of law instead of admitting to an offense. However, some defendants believe pleading guilty is their best option, especially if they can negotiate a favorable plea agreement or plea bargain. Although an attorney is not required by law, entering a guilty plea unassisted is not a wise choice.
There are many factors to consider when determining how to best approach a DUI case, and the Salt Lake City DUI attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC can help. Call (801) 758-2287 for a free case review.
Definition of DUI in Utah
In the State of Utah, you may be charged with a DUI if your BAC is over .05% while driving. A driver suspected of driving while intoxicated will be pulled over by the police and tested to determine their BAC. A driver may have their breath tested for alcohol, or a chemical test of their blood will be performed. The breathalyzer is perhaps the most commonly known test method, although other test methods may be used.
A driver can alternatively be charged with a DUI for driving under the influence of drugs rather than alcohol. If a driver is suspected of driving under the influence of drugs or a combination of drugs and alcohol, the courts do not need to follow the BAC percentage standard. Instead, officers may issue a DUI when a driver appears so intoxicated and impaired that they are not able to safely operate a vehicle.
The seriousness of a DUI charge will depend on the unique circumstances of a person’s DUI charge. A driver facing their first ever DUI charge will probably be given a lighter sentence, and the charge will be only a misdemeanor. A driver who has been convicted of multiple DUIs in the past will face harsher punishments, and their charge may be considered a felony. Whether or not you should plead guilty to a DUI in Utah will depend on a number of factors.
Do I Have to Have an Attorney to Plead Guilty to a DUI in Utah?
As said previously, no defendant is legally required to have an attorney represent them at any stage of the criminal process. Defendants are permitted to proceed without an attorney and represent themselves. However, criminal defendants have the right to legal representation for a good reason. Representing yourself is extremely difficult, and defendants who choose to forego an attorney often end up in way over their heads.
You might be thinking that an attorney couldn’t possibly be necessary if you want to plead guilty to a DUI. After all, pleading guilty means you are waiving your right to a trial, and you will skip right to sentencing. However, even a guilty plea is a complicated process. Before agreeing to plead guilty to a DUI, you need an attorney to advise you on your decision. It might be tempting to throw in the towel and plead guilty, but your attorney might know things you do not.
With an attorney, you can use your guilty plea to your advantage. For example, after intense negotiations with prosecutors, many defendants plead guilty to reduce their charges, so their penalties are more lenient. In addition, your attorney could advise you on the collateral consequences of having a DUI, like losing your license, future job prospects, and other penalties.
If you think pleading guilty might be the best decision for your case, talk to our Layton DUI defense attorneys for advice before making any important choices.
How an Attorney Can Help Me Plead Guilty to a DUI in Utah
Even if you want to enter a guilty plea instead of fighting your DUI in court, an attorney can provide invaluable assistance to your case. Attorneys are not just for getting people off the hook for their charges. They are also there to make sure your rights are protected throughout the criminal justice process and that prosecutors do not railroad defendants with inappropriate or overly harsh charges.
First and foremost, your attorney can advise you of all your legal options besides pleading guilty. Defendants tend to think they only have the options of pleading guilty or not guilty, but you may have other unique opportunities of which you are unaware. For example, probation or pretrial diversion programs could be an option depending on your circumstances.
Second, a lawyer can help you plead guilty to a DUI because they can make sure you are fully aware of all the penalties you may face. The charges and penalties for a DUI can vary widely based on the degree of your intoxication, the number of DUIs on your record, and whether anyone was hurt during your DUI incident. You must be fully informed of the penalties for your specific charges before pleading guilty.
An attorney can also check the charges prosecutors have filed against you to make sure they are fair. It is not unusual for prosecutors to charge the harshest penalties legally allowed because they anticipate the charges being negotiated or argued down in court. Our Park City Utah DUI defense lawyers can review your case and make sure your charges are fair and appropriate before you plead guilty.
Misdemeanor vs. Felony DUI Charges in Utah
A driver who has never been charged with a DUI before or has been charged only once before will be charged with a class B misdemeanor DUI. A DUI may be upgraded to a class A misdemeanor or a more serious third-degree felony if certain conditions are present. If you are thinking about pleading guilty, you must consider what kind of DUI charge you have.
When a DUI Becomes a Class A Misdemeanor
A DUI charge can be upgraded to a class A misdemeanor if any of the following elements are present:
- The driver causes injury to another person.
- The driver has a passenger under 16 years of age.
- The driver is 21 years old or older and has a passenger under 18 in the vehicle.
- The driver drives the wrong way down a road or drives drunk on the freeway.
When a DUI Becomes a Third Degree Felony
A DUI charge can be upgraded to a third-degree felony when any of the following elements are present:
- The driver inflicts serious bodily injury on another person.
- The driver has two or more prior DUIs within ten years of the current conviction.
- The driver was previously convicted of automobile homicide or another felony DUI.
Additionally, the driver will be charged with a separate offense for each person who suffers bodily injury or serious bodily injury. This means that if three people are injured, the driver faces three separate counts of DUI charges.
Making Sure Your Charges are Fair Before Pleading Guilty to a DUI in Utah
As stated above, prosecutors are known for charging defendants with anything that will stick. This is not an uncommon process as the charges tend to get reduced as the criminal justice process continues. For example, if you are charged with your fourth ever DUI, prosecutors may want to charge the offense as a felony. However, it might come out later that previous DUIs were not within the past 10 years, making them ineligible for consideration for charging purposes.
If you would rather cut your losses and plead guilty, you need to know exactly what you are pleading guilty to. Not all DUIs are the same, and your charges could be far harsher than you anticipated. An attorney can sit you down and explain precisely what your charges mean and whether you have a good shot at successfully challenging them.
In many cases, skilled defense attorneys can persuade prosecutors to reduce your DUI charges before you plead guilty. Prosecutors are often open to these kinds of negotiations as they tend to have large caseloads, and the more cases they can quickly resolve through pleas, the better. Speak to our Provo DUI defense attorneys about your charges before you decide to plead guilty.
DUI Sentencing in Utah
For a first conviction, a court may sentence a defendant to no less than 48 hours in jail or no less than 48 hours of community service. The court will also require the defendant to undergo drug and alcohol screening, participate in drug and alcohol classes, pay a fine of at least $700, and pay any administrative, impoundment, or towing fees. A defendant with a BAC of .16% or higher may also be put on probation.
A felony DUI defendant faces no less than 240 hours in jail or, in the alternative, 120 hours in jail followed by no less than 720 hours of home confinement. The court will also make the defendant participate in drug and alcohol screening, participate in drug and alcohol classes, pay a fine of at least $800, serve a term of probation, and pay any administrative or towing fees. For either a misdemeanor or felony DUI, the court may also, at its discretion, order a defendant to enter substance abuse treatment programs, serve a term of probation, and enter a 24-7 sobriety program.
Negotiating a Plea Bargain for a DUI in Utah
Entering a guilty plea for a DUI does not have to be as bad as many defendants think it is. Defendants who want to plead guilty often feel they have no chance of winning their case in a trial, and in some cases, this is unfortunately true. If the prosecutor’s case against you is just too strong, it may be wise to switch your focus from fighting your charges to minimizing them.
Plea agreements or plea bargains are commonly used to resolve many different kinds of criminal cases. As part of a plea bargain, a prosecutor agrees to reduce the charges against a defendant, and that defendant agrees to plead guilty, thereby waiving their right to a trial and saving everyone time and energy.
Plea agreements must be negotiated, and there is often much back-and-forth between defendants and prosecutors before a deal is struck. A DUI defense lawyer can help you negotiate the most favorable plea agreement possible. Like any other negotiations, plea negotiations require some give and take from both sides. Your attorney can make sure you are not giving more than you are taking. Our Riverton DUI defense attorney will help you argue for the best deal for your case.
Can I Plead Guilty to a DUI in Utah Without a Lawyer?
If you think pleading guilty to a DUI is in your best interest, it is possible to do so with or without an attorney. You might be wondering why you need an attorney if you just plan to plead guilty and accept the penalties imposed by the court. DUIs are far more complicated than they seem, and choosing to plead guilty without the assistance of an Ogden DUI attorney is risky. The penalties associated with any DUI conviction are more than simple fines or jail time. A defendant may be required to attend classes, be placed on probation, and undergo screenings for drugs and alcohol, which can all be a serious interruption to their life.
Utah prosecutors might be willing to offer you a plea agreement, as with many other criminal charges. DUI plea agreements often involve downgrading the charge to impaired driving in exchange for a guilty plea. This class B misdemeanor carries a lighter sentence than a DUI. You could choose to navigate this process alone, but an attorney will know how to get you the best plea agreement possible and help you avoid pleading to unjust charges.
Hire a Utah DUI Attorney for your Drunk Driving Charges
You can plead guilty on your own as you are not legally required to hire an attorney. However, a Utah DUI attorney will be better equipped to defend you. Our Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys can help you handle your DUI. Call Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 to schedule a free case review.