Salt Lake City Justice Court Judge Arrested for Drug Distribution

A Salt Lake City Justice Court judge has been placed on administrative leave after being arrested for distribution of a controlled substance.  Specifically, the allegations are that she received 338 Oxycodone tablets through the mail from Las Vegas with the intention to distribute them through someone else.  That information comes from the probable cause statement that the officers used to justify her arrest.  While she has been arrested, as of the writing of this entry, no charges have been filed.

Ms. Ward was arrested Saturday and booked into the Salt Lake County Jail.  She posted bail and was released the same day.  Once an arrest occurs, the person arrested must be given the opportunity to post bail.

Arrest, Bail, and Pretrial in Salt Lake County

The right to bail is guaranteed in Utah under Article I, Section 8 of the Utah Constitution.  Several exceptions exist.  Bail can be denied where there is substantial evidence that the person committed a capital offense, where a person is charged with a felony while on probation, parole or out on bail on another felony offense, and where there is substantial evidence to support the charges and clear and convincing evidence that the person constitutes a substantial danger to others or is likely to flee if released on bail.

An alternative to posting bail exists in Salt Lake County.  An arm of the Third District Court exists called Salt Lake County Pretrial Services.  Pretrial Services will interview detainees in the jail and if the detainee meets certain criteria, they will agree to supervise them.  Some of the criteria used include whether the person poses a risk of violence to others, the criminal history of the person including their history of showing up for court hearings, whether the person has had a stable place of residence for six months or more in the state, and the individual’s willingness to participate in the program.

The Salt Lake County Pretrial Services program saves taxpayers thousands of dollars every year by providing an alternative to housing inmates in the jail while they await resolution of their case, and saves the individuals who qualify from having to post bail.  Many in the judicial system cannot afford bail or have no substantial asset to post as security for bail.  Pretrial services give these individuals a chance to be released pending the outcome of their case. Being released often means being able to continue their jobs and supporting their family.  Without this alternative, the costs associated with supporting the detainee’s family would frequently fall to the community through other government programs, religious organizations and extended family.  Pretrial Services provides an invaluable service to the community and should be commended for its work.

When a person is incarcerated at the jail and cannot either post bail or does not qualify for pretrial services, the state has 72 hours excluding weekends and holidays to charge the person.  A failure to charge within this period results in the person being released from the jail.

I should mention Utah County is the exception to this practice. Individuals can be held in jail without an attorney for as long as eight days before being charged.  This practice is unconstitutional and in violation of Utah law.  If you have a loved one incarcerated in Utah County who has yet to be charged, you should contact me immediately as I am looking for the right case to challenge this unconstitutional practice in Utah County.

I have used Ms. Ward’s situation as a lead-in to discuss the criminal process in Utah.  I should emphasize, however, that she is presumed innocent at this point and that presumption will remain in place up until the point (if ever) that State proves each element of the charges against her beyond a reasonable doubt, or if she were to enter a plea of guilty.  The presumption of innocence is fundamental to the American justice system and protects all citizens despite condemnations that may occur in the media when scandals such as this one are covered by the press.

Frequently the public is led by the media commentators to believe that an individual who has been charged is guilty of the crimes and by pleading “Not Guilty” that person is somehow avoiding responsibility or even committing some kind of fraud on the public.  This could not be further from the truth.

A not guilty plea is entered at the first appearance in court.  When you hire counsel, your criminal attorney can enter a plea of not guilty by filing a notice of appearance with the plea included in the document along with a demand for a jury trial.  If done early enough in the process, that document can save you from having to appear on the initial appearance and the case will be set for another hearing at a later date.

A not guilty plea is not a statement that the defendant is as innocent as virgin snow.  It is merely the way in which the defendant places at issue each element of the charge.  It is a straightforward way of informing the state that they will be required to prove each element of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.  A defendant who pleads guilty waives a very fundamental American right by relieving the state of the burden of proving its case.  If you want a trial, you must plead not guilty.

Before anyone enters a guilty plea, they must be given fair notice of the charges against them.  This is done in Utah by the filing of an Information.  The Information is a specialized charging document that outlines the number of charges, the name of the crime, the statutory provision under which the defendant is charged, a description of the allegations supporting the charge and the identity of those who will testify at trial to prove the charge.

For minor crimes, you may receive a citation. This is the form you signed the last time you received a speeding ticket.  In Utah, according to the Utah Court of Appeals, the citation is not actually a prosecution even when you agree and pay the fine.  According to the court, a prosecution in Utah only takes place upon the filing of an Information or by Indictment.  Indictments are rarely used in Utah but they are an alternative way of charging a crime.

Despite the presumption of innocence, there can be other consequences of arrest that take place prior to any conviction.  For instance, if you are arrested for DUI, your license can be suspended by the Utah Driver’s License Division.  To prevent such a suspension, you have to request a hearing in writing within 10 days of your arrest.  That proceeding is an administrative proceeding and is independent of the criminal case.  In the case of DUI, you must win your driver’s license hearing and win in the criminal case in order to keep your driving privileges.

I mention this here because even if Ms. Ward is never convicted, the nature of the allegations made against her gives rise to the potential that defendants who have been convicted in her court may bring a challenge to their convictions or sentences.  If it comes to light that she was under the influence of a controlled substance while handling cases, expect to see many post-conviction challenges being filed in court that could result in many convictions being overturned.

If You Were Convicted In Her Court, You May Be Entitled to Challenge Your Conviction and/or Sentence

We don’t yet know enough about the case to say whether there is a solid basis to challenge convictions and/or sentences entered by Judge Ward. However, if you have been convicted in her court during the past year, you should contact my office so that we can explore your situation while we monitor the situation in Ms. Ward’s case as more information comes to light. You may be entitled to having your conviction or sentence overturned.

Contact our Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer today for a free consultation – (801)-895-3143.