Salt Lake City Drug Crime Defense Lawyer

Salt Lake criminal defense lawyer

Utah enforces tough criminal penalties for crimes involving illegal drugs. The possession of controlled substances,      or even the possession of drug paraphernalia, can lead to incarceration, heavy fines, and a lengthy period of driver’s license suspension. In addition to facing these court-ordered penalties, a convicted defendant will also face the collateral consequences that come from having a prior history of drug-related offenses, which can be absolutely devastating for your employment prospects.  For folks in certain occupations like teachers, truckers, pilots, and government workers, a drug conviction can mean the end of a career.

If you or one of your family members was charged with drug possession or other drug crimes in Salt Lake City or across the state of Utah, you need to get experienced legal help fast.  Our aggressive and highly experienced Utah criminal defense attorneys at Overson & Bugden have successfully represented thousands of defendants charged with drug possession or distribution and other narcotics crimes in Utah. Call us right away at (801) 758-2287 for a free and confidential legal consultation.

How Controlled Substances Are “Scheduled” in Utah

Illegal drugs, also referred to as “controlled substances,” are classified in Utah according to a schedule that ranks them from most dangerous (Schedule I) to least dangerous (Schedule V). Schedule V drugs include mixtures of codeine and other drugs found in over-the-counter medicine, intended to get someone high rather than treat a cough or other ailment. Schedule IV includes commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs like Klonopin, Xanax, Prozac, and Tramadol, among many others. Schedule III includes anabolic steroids and certain other compounds, while Schedule II contains, among other things, opioids such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine. Finally, while the drugs in Schedules I-IV can sometimes be prescribed legally for a medical purpose, Schedule I drugs are considered to have no known medical use in the state, and, as such, penalties for crimes involving these drugs are usually the most serious. They include marijuana, LSD, heroin, ecstasy, meth, cocaine, and many more.

Types of Drug Crimes Handled by Our Skilled Defense Lawyers

Drug offenses are governed by the Utah Controlled Substances Act, particularly Utah Code § 58-37-8, which establishes which type of crime each charge will be, i.e. a felony or misdemeanor, and what class of misdemeanor or felony it is, i.e. a class A misdemeanor or a class B misdemeanor. Broadly speaking, there are two major classes of drug charges one can face: charges involving possession of drugs and charges involving the manufacture, sale, and distribution of drugs. If intent to distribute can be shown, a possession charge can be upped to possession with the intent to distribute, which is treated the same as a charge for a completed act of distribution or sale. Of course, there are other crimes that involve drugs, such as a drug DUI or possession of drug paraphernalia. Each case is different and it is always best to speak with one of our skilled criminal defense attorneys at Overson & Bugden who can assess the specifics of your case and make a game plan from there.

Possession Charges

Any individual convicted of possessing or using a controlled substance is guilty of a class B misdemeanor if the controlled substance at issue is a Schedule III, IV, or V controlled substance  For a second conviction involving such controlled substances, the defendant is guilty of a class A misdemeanor, and for a third or further conviction, the defendant is guilty of a third-degree felony. Note that, under Utah’s recent marijuana reform laws, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is charged as a class B misdemeanor even though marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug.

Individuals convicted of possessing Schedule I or II controlled substances are guilty of a third-degree felony. This applies to marijuana if the amount possessed is more than 16 ounces but less than 100 pounds. For marijuana charges where the amount in possession is 100 pounds or more, the charge will be a second-degree felony.

Manufacturing and Distribution Charges

Charges for “drug distribution” can apply anytime an individual intentionally produces, manufactures, intends to distribute, or actually distributes any controlled substance in the state. For distributing a Schedule V controlled substance, the charge will be a third-degree felony. If the individual has been previously convicted of this crime, the charge will be upped to a second-degree felony. Distributing a Schedule II or IV controlled substance is a second-degree felony. Distributing a Schedule I controlled substance is a first-degree felony.

Penalties for Drug Crimes in Utah

The potential penalties you face will depend on the level of crime you have been charged with. Sometimes, enhancements can be added, such as when drugs are being sold in a school zone, that will result in a higher-level charge. The following are the upper limits in terms of how you can be sentenced, but each case is different. Furthermore, other penalties like license suspensions and mandatory drug or alcohol treatment can also apply in some cases. Be sure to reach out to a skilled Utah criminal defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden as soon after your arrest as possible so we can get to work on mitigating the damage and ensuring that you avoid the most serious potential sentences.


  • Fine— Up to $10,000
  • Sentence— Up to life in prison


  • Fine — Up to $10,000
  • Sentence— Up to 15 years in prison


  • Fine— Up to $5,000
  • Sentence— Up to 5 years in prison


  • Fine— Up to $2,500
  • Sentence— Up to 1 year in jail


  • Fine— Up to $1,000
  • Sentence— Up to 6 months in jail


  • Fine— Up to $750
  • Sentence— Up to 3 months in jail

How a Skilled Salt Lake City Defense Lawyer Can Help You at Each Stage of Your Drug Case

After you are arrested for a drug crime, you will be transported to the local police station for what is known as the booking process. During this process you will be fingerprinted and photographed and your biographical information will be collected. After booking, you will be kept in the station’s holding cell or transported to the local jail until your initial appearance and bail hearing can be held, usually within 72 hours, but often much sooner. This means that you or a loved one need to act quickly to retain a skilled criminal defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden so that we can be prepared to represent you at these proceedings.  If the police try to question you, you should politely refuse to speak with them until you have a lawyer present.

Initial Appearance

At your initial appearance, the judge will read the charges against you, inform you of your rights during a criminal case and, in misdemeanor drug cases, your arraignment will also occur. The arraignment is when you enter an initial plea of guilty or not guilty with the court. In felony drug cases, it occurs later, after a potential preliminary hearing where the prosecutor will have to show that there is probable cause for the case to proceed. In either case, our skilled Utah arraignment lawyers at Overson & Bugden are likely to advise you to enter a not guilty plea while we collect all of the prosecutor’s evidence and assess the strength of the case against you.

Pretrial Release Hearing (Bail Hearing)

At your pretrial release hearing, which will occur at or around the same time as your initial appearance, the judge will decide whether you can be released from jail or must remain behind bars until the charges against you are resolved. This hearing is also called a bail hearing, because, if the judge chooses to release you, they also usually set a cash bail amount that you must pay as insurance that you will show up to court as required. While judges typically look to state guidelines to see how much bail to set for each crime, they can set it higher or lower than what is recommended if they find “extenuating circumstances.” Our skilled Utah pretrial release hearing attorneys know the best arguments to get the judge to let you out on no or minimal bail, based on such factors as your criminal history or lack thereof, ties to the community, and the nature and severity of the charges against you.

Pre-Trial and Trial

After we have dealt with your release, we can turn our attentions to requesting any outstanding evidence from the prosecutor, filing any necessary motions like a motion to exclude evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search and seizure, and beginning to work with the prosecutor to try to get your charges downgraded or dismissed. Sometimes, for first time offenders, we may be able to get you into drug court, which is focused on treatment rather than punishment and which usually results in your charges being dropped. In other cases, we may be able to get the prosecutor to allow you to enter a plea in abeyance. If you successfully stay out of further trouble and complete the requirements of the court, your charges will be dismissed and you will not have a criminal record.

Other possible deals include the prosecutor downgrading the charge to something less serious, such as from a possession with the intent to distribute to simple possession, or recommending a lenient sentence to the judge, which the judge will almost always follow. Of course, if you do not wish to take a deal or are not satisfied with the deal, our battle-tested trial attorneys at Overson & Bugden are ready and able to fight for a not guilty verdict in the courtroom. We will help you decide if a jury trial or a bench trial before a judge is best for your case, and will leave no stone unturned working to show that the charges against you cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Interstate Commerce and Federal Cases

If drug transactions are sufficiently related to interstate commerce, they can be prosecuted in federal court, where potential penalties are even harsher. The Tenth Circuit, the U.S federal appeal court covering Utah, has ruled that selling drugs out of your home had a sufficient nexus with interstate commerce to give the court federal jurisdiction. Federal courts operate very differently from Utah courts, and, anytime you are facing federal charges or state and federal charges, you should be certain to hire an attorney like those on the team at Overson & Bugden who has experience in both systems.

If You Have Been Arrested for a Drug Crime, Call Our Experienced Salt Lake City Lawyers Today

There are many different types of drug crimes and many different types of illegal drugs in the state of Utah. Some of these charges are more serious than others, but all of them can lead to severe potential penalties including jail time and a criminal record that will haunt you for years into the future. At Overson & Bugden, our veteran drug crime defense attorneys have years of experience successfully defending clients charged with all sorts of drug crimes in courtrooms across the state of Utah. We will work to get your charges downgraded or dismissed and bring the matter to the most positive possible conclusion for you and your future. For a free consultation, call our office today at (801) 758-2287.