When you or someone you love is charged with a crime, your life turns upside down overnight. It’s a scary and overwhelming situation to find yourself in, especially if you’ve never been arrested and do not know what to expect from Utah’s criminal justice system. One of your earliest steps should be finding an experienced lawyer to help you.
If you or someone in your family was arrested in St. George, know that you do not have to go through this difficult time on your own. With over 16 years of experience, our passionate and knowledgeable St. George criminal defense attorneys are here to fight the allegations and protect your Constitutional liberties, no matter how complex or serious the charges against you may be.
The best possible defense will look different for each defendant. Our St. George defense lawyers can review your case and create an effective defense strategy for you. Call Overson Law, PLLC at (801) 758-2287 today for a free initial case evaluation.
Types of Charges Our St. George Criminal Attorneys Handle
Criminal defense attorney Darwin Overson represents adults and juveniles in the 84101 zip code of Salt Lake City, which extends from North Temple to 1300 South and South 600 West to Main Street. He handles offenses ranging from minor misdemeanors to highly complex felonies.
Our St. George criminal defense attorneys are prepared to represent you no matter how serious or minor your criminal charges are. Our legal team will be by your side from the very first stage of the trial all the way to sentencing if necessary.
Types of Crimes and Criminal Penalties in St. George
There are three types of offenses in Utah; violations, misdemeanors, and felonies. Misdemeanors and felonies are each divided into three different groups, called “classes” for misdemeanors and “degrees” for felonies, depending on the details of the alleged offense. As a crime’s grading rises, the potential penalties become more severe. Our St. George criminal defense lawyers can provide more insight into the differences between criminal classifications and their penalties.
Violations are not actually crimes. When a person commits a parking violation, they are issued a citation and are required to pay a fine or go to court. Violations are generally very minor and are almost never punished with jail time. In many cases, a violation may not even be reflected in someone’s criminal history.
A common example of a violation is a traffic ticket. Even though a violation might not be legally considered a crime, it can still be challenged, and our St. George criminal defense attorneys can help you.
Misdemeanors are crimes which are less serious than felonies. Class C and Class B misdemeanors are heard in Utah’s justice courts, while Class A misdemeanors, which are just one step below felonies, may be heard in district court.
Class C misdemeanors can be punished with a fine of up to $750 and a jail term of no more than 90 days. Class B misdemeanors are a bit more serious and can be penalized with fines up to $1,000 and jail terms of no longer than 6 months. Finally, class A misdemeanors are the most serious type of misdemeanor offense. They can be punished by fines of no more than $2,500 and a jail sentence of no more than 1 year.
Felonies are the most serious type of criminal offense, often carrying long prison terms and thousands of dollars in criminal fines. After a person has been convicted of a felony, they may lose rights and privileges, such as the ability to hold certain licenses. Despite a profusion of laws designed to curb this very issue, the unfortunate reality is that former felons often struggle against discrimination when it comes to employment, housing, and lending. Felony charges are generally heard in district court, though potential exists for the outcome of a case to be challenged in the Court of Appeals or even before the Supreme Court of Utah.
Felonies are divided into three subcategories referred to as degrees. A third-degree felony can be punished with no more than $5,000 in fines and a prison sentence of no more than 5 years. Second-degree felonies are somewhat more serious and can be punished by fines of no more than $10,000 and at least 1 but no longer than 15 years in prison. The most severe felonies, first-degree felonies, can be punished by up to $10,000 in fines and a prison term ranging from anywhere from 5 years to life behind bars.
What Happens When You Are Arrested in St. George?
Thanks to television and movies, most people think arrests are dramatic events where the police rough you up before being cuffed and thrown in the back of a police car. In reality, arrests can be quite dramatic, but they can also be very simple affairs. The nature of your arrest will largely depend on the nature of your case. If you are wanted for very serious, violent felony charges, the police might make a bigger deal of your arrest. On the other hand, you might decide to turn yourself in to the police, and your arrest will be very quick and quiet.
After you are arrested, you will be taken in for booking. This process involves taking fingerprints, mugshots, and recording any personal and biographical information. While the police often allow people to make a phone call after being arrested, this call is not always immediate. Be patient, and once you are booked you should be allowed to call your family or a lawyer.
In any event, you must have your guard up from the moment you are taken into police custody. After you are arrested, the police are likely to want to ask you some questions. Whenever the police question you while in custody, they must inform you of your Miranda rights. These rights include your right to refuse to answer any questions and keep quiet and your right to have an attorney by your side during questioning. Invoking both of these rights is an excellent way to prevent any accidental self-incrimination.
After you are arrested, make it clear to the police that you wish to invoke these rights. The police should allow you to contact an attorney. Call our St. George criminal defense attorneys for help as soon as you possibly can.
Pre-Trial Proceedings in Criminal Cases in St. George
Before you get to your trial, there are many pre-trial hearings and proceedings to get through. Each hearing is essential, and many of them require your presence. Failing to appear at a pre-trial hearing could be met with serious repercussions. It is also a bad idea to get on a judge’s bad side at any stage of the criminal justice process.
Your arraignment happens early. At your arraignment, a judge will formally inform you of your charges and allow you to enter a plea. This is a quick proceeding, but it is extremely important. How you decide to plea will influence the rest of your case. A guilty plea means you are waiving your right to a trial, and you will go directly to sentencing. You are invoking your trial rights by pleading not guilty, and our St. George criminal defense lawyers can help you fight your charges.
Prosecutors must provide us with their evidence against you during the discovery process. This process is absolutely critical in our development of defense strategies. Knowing the evidence against you is the only way we can defend you and protect your rights. Any evidence that is not included in discovery can be challenged later. We can also begin filing pre-trial motions to exclude evidence we believe was unlawfully seized. The more evidence we can keep out of your trial, the better your odds of success.
Setting Bail in St. George Criminal Cases
Bail is another pre-trial hearing that is extremely important. In the past, and in many cases still today, bail is a sum of money determined by the court. The defendant must pay some portion of this sum to be released from jail while awaiting their trial. While this form of cash bail still exists, many prosecutors seek alternative means for bail nowadays.
Instead of paying money, you might be released on the condition that you follow important rules set by the court. For example, staying free of crime away from the alleged victim might be terms of your bail. A violation of these terms could see your bail revoked, and you could be thrown back in jail until your trial.
While the majority of defendants are eligible for bail, a select few are denied. Bail is restricted only in the most extreme cases, such as violent murder or sexual assault charges. The nature of your charges will influence the money involved in your bail and the terms and conditions attached. Our St. George criminal defense attorneys can help you argue for the least restrictive bail possible.
Alternative Sentencing Options for Criminal Convictions in St. George
Fines and incarceration are not the only possible consequences of a criminal conviction in Utah. Depending on the nature of the offense, the courts might also impose additional or alternate penalties, including but not limited to:
- Community Service
- Driver’s License Suspension/Revocation
- Driver Safety Courses
- Electronic Monitoring (House Arrest)
- Ignition Interlock Device (IID)
- Sex Offender Registration
- Work Programs
Some alternative punishments will be imposed in addition to an ordinary sentence. Other alternative punishments will be imposed instead of ordinary sentencing terms. For example, the mandatory use of an interlock ignition device is often imposed in addition to the normal sentencing terms for DUIs. However, probation is typically imposed as an alternative to prison. Similarly, things like education or treatment classes can be required as part of someone’s probation or parole. Call our St. George criminal defense attorneys to discuss the possibility of alternative sentencing options in your case.
How Mitigating and Aggravating Factors Affect a Sentence in St. George
For many defendants, the judge will have some room for discretion when deciding a final sentence. The final outcome of your case can be influenced by mitigating and aggravating factors. Stated simply, mitigating factors make a sentence lighter while aggravating factors make a sentence more severe. The presence or absence of mitigating or aggravating factors can dramatically lighten – or intensify – the jail or prison term which would otherwise be sentenced. Some common examples of aggravating factors include…
- Causing a serious physical injury.
- Child endangerment.
- Committing a crime on school property.
- Committing a hate crime.
- Injuring or victimizing a child, elderly person, disabled person, or person who is otherwise vulnerable.
- Injuring or victimizing a person you had formal authority over (e.g. a student-teacher relationship).
- Using a dangerous weapon during the course of the crime.
Generally, an aggravating factor is one that makes an already bad situation worse. It is bad enough to be charged with assault. It is even worse to be charged with assaulting an elderly person or a young child. Alternatively, mitigating factors are ones that make a bad situation a little bit better or more tolerable. A mitigating factor does not necessarily have to absolve someone of responsibility or completely justify their actions, but it usually makes their point of view a bit more understandable. For example, some mitigating factors might be…
- Being a non-violent offender with a clean record, in which case you might be a good candidate for alternate sentencing programs like drug court.
- Cooperating with law enforcement.
- Having a disability that interferes with the defendant’s ability to understand his or her own actions.
If there are more mitigating factors in your case, the judge may be inclined to impose a penalty that is closer to the statutory minimum. However, if there are more aggravating factors, your penalty could be closer to the maximum penalty possible. Speak with our St. George criminal defense attorneys for help with any mitigating or aggravating factors that might be present in your case.
Negotiating a Plea Agreement in a St. George Criminal Case
Many criminal cases are not resolved through a trial by jury. Instead, these cases get resolved through plea agreements and plea bargains. A plea agreement is like a deal struck between the defendant and prosecutors. The prosecutors agree to reduce the defendant’s criminal charges and penalties, and the defendant agrees to plead guilty to these reduced charges and waive their trial rights. The idea of pleading guilty might seem like giving up, but a plea agreement might be a good option for some defendants.
Plea agreements and plea bargains are helpful when the evidence is seriously stacked against you. If the odds of an acquittal are slim to none, a plea agreement could help you avoid a harsher punishment. Most would agree that 3 years in prison is better than 10 years.
Plea agreements are not set in stone. If prosecutors offer you a deal that is just not good enough, we can negotiate and hopefully work out a deal that favors both parties. Our St. George criminal defense lawyers have negotiated many plea deals in the past and can help you get the best deal possible.
Appealing Your Criminal Conviction in St. George
If you are convicted of the charges against you, you still have the right to file an appeal. An appeal is essentially a request for a higher court to examine the decision of the lower trial court that convicted you and check for legal errors. Do not be confused, this is not a new trial. Generally, an appellate court does not hear new evidence or arguments regarding your guilt or innocence. Instead, the appellate court will check if the trial court made any legal mistakes that could have resulted in an unfair outcome.
If you have exhausted all your direct appeals, you may still have a chance by filing under Utah’s Post Conviction Remedies Act (PCRA). Under a direct appeal, you can appeal just about anything. Under the PCRA in Utah, however, your grounds for relief are much more limited. These grounds can include evidence and information that was not available during your trial, misconduct by the attorneys on your case, and other legal mistakes that might not be available on direct appeal.
Our St. George criminal defense attorneys can talk to you about your potential appeal options.
When You Should Hire an Attorney for Criminal Matters in St. George
The sooner you hire a criminal defense attorney, the better. People often put off hiring a lawyer until it becomes absolutely necessary out of fear of expensive legal fees. By that time, you might be deeply entrenched in the criminal justice process, and your attorney might have to play catch-up. While legal fees can be expensive, depending upon how your case plays out, they are a better alternative to time behind bars.
It is an excellent time to hire an attorney as soon as you believe you are caught up in the legal system. For example, if you have been arrested or searched by the police, you should consult with a criminal defense lawyer, even if you have not been formally charged. An attorney can inform you of your rights and help you prepare for the next time you encounter the police.
Do not be afraid to consult with an attorney early on in your case. It is imperative you take steps to protect your rights and best interests as soon as you think they are in jeopardy. Contact our St. George criminal defense lawyers if you are facing any criminal charges.
Call Our St. George Criminal Defense Lawyer for a Consultation
If you or someone you love was arrested in St. George, do not delay getting legal help. The sooner you reach out for assistance, the sooner our St. George criminal defense lawyers can begin building your defense strategy. For a free and private legal consultation, call Overson Law, PLLC right away at (801) 758-2287.