What Constitutes Drug Possession Under Utah Law?

Drug crimes are taken very seriously in Utah. The anti-drug sentiment is strong across the United States, fueled in part by an influx of dangerous controlled substances like fentanyl that have a higher potential for misuse, overdose, and death. For that reason, drug possession and distribution crimes are being treated more seriously, and prosecutors are pursuing them more zealously. For that reason, it is a good idea to have an understanding of what exactly possessing a controlled substance means in Utah.

In Utah, it is a crime to possess drugs or possess them with the intent to distribute the drugs. There are serious penalties attached to illegal drug possession and distribution, some of which are serious felonies. The specific penalties you face are dependent on several factors, including the type of drug you possess, the amount of drugs you possess, whether you plan to distribute those drugs, and prior drug convictions. Because penalties for drug possession can be very serious, you need serious legal help if you are facing drug charges.

To have a free overview of your case, call Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 and speak to our team of Salt Lake City drug crime defense lawyers.

Drug Possession in Utah Explained

Utah Code § 58-37-8 outlines multiple kinds of drug possession criminalized with different levels of seriousness in Utah. Knowing what kind of drug possession you are charged with is critical to our Utah drug crime defense lawyers mounting a strong defense for you. Below, we’ll go into the variants of drug possession cases you can get accused of in Utah.

Simple Possession

Simple possession is probably the drug crime that is most frequently charged in Utah. As the name would suggest, this crime requires you to possess drugs. But what does possession technically mean?

First, possession can be either “actual” possession of drugs or “constructive” possession. Actual possession is when you have drugs on your person. For example, if you are holding a bag of weed in your hands, you actually possess that weed. However, suppose you then walk home and stash that bag of weed in your closet. You still possess the drugs despite not having them on your person. This would qualify as “constructive possession.” Additionally, constructive possession requires that the drug is in a location you have access to and that you know the drugs are there. Stashing weed in your closet would certainly meet both of those requirements. Both kinds of possession are sufficient to be charged with a drug possession crime.

Second, you need to know that what you have is a drug. The standard for this is whether a reasonable person would know that what they possess is a drug, whether or not they know it is illegal. For example, suppose a friend asks you to hold onto a cocaine delivery while they are on vacation. In that case, you would knowingly be in possession of cocaine because you were told it was cocaine, and it, presumably, looks like cocaine. However, suppose now that your friend gives you a Tylenol bottle, complete with a factory label, and tells you that it is Tylenol. In reality, if the bottle is full of Vicodin, you would not have knowledge that you possessed the drug. Your impression would be that you are holding onto Tylenol.

Possession with Intent to Distribute

Another drug crime in Utah is possession with intent to distribute. This crime requires you to both possess drugs and intend to give them to other people. Specifically, Utah Code § 58-37-8(a)(ii) makes it illegal to have possession of drugs and produce, manufacture, or dispense them – or attempt to do the same.

Generally, possession with intent to distribute is treated as more serious than simple possession. However, the prosecution also needs to prove more to show that you had the required intent to distribute. For example, if all the prosecution has as evidence is that you have weed in your closet, they probably cannot prove that you had intent to distribute it. However, if the prosecution also has a group text detailing who is getting what amount of that weed and individual baggies weighed out to particular amounts, they can more easily prove your intent to distribute.

Penalties for Drug Possession in Utah

Drug possession and possession with intent to distribute have serious penalties attached per Utah Code § 58-37-8. Many drug penalties are based on the “schedule” of the drug. A drug schedule denotes how dangerous a drug is and the penalties associated with it. For example, Schedule I drugs include LSD, ecstasy, and heroin. In general, drugs that are of a lower schedule number are more dangerous and have higher associated penalties for possession. More dangerous, lower-schedule drugs have harsher penalties associated with their possession.

Penalties for drug possession can vary wildly depending on a number of factors. The four factors that affect drug possession penalties are the type of drug, the amount of said drug, whether the possession charge is for simple possession or possession with intent to distribute, and whether the defendant has any prior drug-related offenses. For example, you face more severe penalties for having heroin on hand than illegally obtained prescription drugs. You also will face harsher penalties if you possess, say, a closet full of cocaine instead of a small amount for personal use. Proof that you intend to sell or otherwise hand out drugs can also increase the severity of criminal penalties for drug possession. Finally, if you have prior convictions for drug-related offenses, the penalties you face if convicted of possession of drugs will be greater.

Get Help from Our Utah Drug Crime Defense Lawyers Today

For a free, totally confidential review of your situation, call Overson Law at (801) 758-2287 and talk to one of our Utah drug crime defense lawyers.