Utah Has the Fewest Drunk Driving Accidents Nationwide
In April 2016, USA Today reported on a nationwide CarInsuranceComparison.com study that showed Utah ranked lowest in the U.S. for drunk driving accidents. In an interesting correlation, an August 2016 article by WalletHub ranked Utah number eight in the U.S. for strictest DUI laws. This figure came, in part, from ranking Utah’s penalties for DUI tenth in the nation. In fact, as recently as March 2017, Utah controversially became the first state to lower the BAC threshold from 0.08 to 0.05, making it easier for drivers to be arrested and charged with intoxicated driving. Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyer Darwin Overson explains important information about DUI laws in Utah, including penalties for first offense DUI and when driving under the influence is a felony.
Utah DUI Laws
Utah DUI penalties are determined, in part, by a sentencing matrix. The sentencing matrix is essentially a chart that divides DUI offenses into different categories based on factors like:
- Whether it was the driver’s first, second, or subsequent offense.
- Whether the offense was a misdemeanor or felony.
- Whether the driver was under the legal drinking age of 21 at the time of the offense.
- Whether the DUI resulted in serious bodily injury.
- Whether there were minors in the vehicle at the time of the offense.
- Whether the driver had a high BAC, meaning blood alcohol content of 0.16 or higher.
The sentencing matrix is periodically updated to reflect Utah’s changing DUI laws. The most recent version of the DUI sentencing matrix, which is included in the 2017 Utah bail schedule, was last updated in 2012.
Judges use the sentencing matrix to help them decide how much jail time, fines, and other penalties should be ordered if the defendant is found guilty. The sentencing matrix creates two distinct sets of penalties:
- Penalties the judge will impose (“shall order”).
- Penalties the judge can impose (“may order”), depending on the circumstances.
Effective legal representation can shorten your sentence, lower your fines, or even achieve a dismissal of your DUI case. It is crucial to be represented by a Salt Lake DUI defense attorney to give yourself the strongest fighting chance in court.
First-Time DUI Consequences
If you are convicted of a first-offense DUI, the charge is likely a Class B misdemeanor. However, there are also situations where first-time DUI is a Class A misdemeanor. For example, a first DUI is a Class A misdemeanor if the driver had a passenger under the age of 16 (and no death or injury resulted).
Regardless of whether the defendant’s first DUI is a Class B or Class A misdemeanor, the court could:
- Order them to receive treatment.
- Place them on probation.
- Order them to get an ignition interlock device (IID), which is effectively an adapted breathalyzer that stops a car from starting if alcohol is detected.
The court is required to impose (“shall order”):
- A jail sentence of at least 48 hours (two days).
- A fine of at least $700, plus various surcharges that can substantially increase the final amount.
Repeat DUI Jail and Fines
The total number of offenses generally has a greater influence on DUI sentencing than how the crime is classified. For instance, jail time and other penalties are largely the same for first-offense Class B and Class A misdemeanors. However, penalties increase as offenses accumulate.
A second-offense misdemeanor DUI might result in:
- Ignition interlock installation.
- Treatment, where necessary.
The court is required to impose:
- Supervised probation.
- A jail sentence of 10 days, which could potentially be served at home (“house arrest,” “electronic home confinement”).
- A fine of at least $800, plus assorted surcharges.
Felony DUI Penalties
DUI is a felony in Utah if:
- It is the person’s third offense within 10 years.
- It results in serious injury.
- The person has prior felony DUI convictions, or prior automobile homicide (vehicular homicide) convictions.
The court may impose the following penalties for a felony DUI conviction in Utah:
- Electronic home confinement.
- Ignition interlock installation.
The court must impose the following consequences:
- Either 62.5 days in jail, or a prison sentence of zero to five years.
- A minimum fine of $1,500 (plus surcharges), unless the defendant receives the zero-to-five-year sentence.
- Supervised probation, unless the defendant receives the zero-to-five-year sentence.
- Treatment, unless the defendant receives the zero-to-five-year sentence.
Even without a court order, the defendant’s driver’s license can also be suspended or revoked. Depending on the defendant’s age, the number of offenses, and other factors, the suspension period can range from 120 days to 18 months (for a first offense) or two to three years (for a second or subsequent offense). However, the court can add additional time to the suspension period. If the driver was under age 21, the suspension could potentially last until his or her 21st birthday.
For more information about intoxicated driving laws in Utah, you may be interested in our article about driving under the influence under Utah Code § 41-6a-502.
Contact a Salt Lake DUI Defense Lawyer if You Were Arrested for Drunk Driving
By applying an in-depth understanding of Utah’s intoxicated driving laws, alternative sentencing, evidentiary rules, court motions, and judicial system, an experienced Salt Lake City DUI lawyer can fight for a more lenient sentence, lower fines, or other favorable outcomes to your case. For example, an attorney may be able to defeat the prosecutor’s case by showing that evidence was mishandled, that a breathalyzer machine produced faulty readings, or that your constitutional rights were violated by police officers or Utah State Troopers.
However, it is critical to begin analyzing your case as soon as possible. To set up a free and confidential legal consultation about DUI charges in Utah, contact the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 immediately. We handle intoxicated driving charges statewide.