Criminal Process in Utah

In general, the criminal process is similar in all states, though there are slight differences in each. Here's an overview of what usually happens in Utah.

The Arrest

In Utah people can be arrested if there is a good reason, or "probable cause," to believe they committed a crime. Sometimes the arrest is made on the spot because the officer witnessed the crime. But most of the time, an arrest comes after investigators gather evidence. Sometimes officers will ask judges to issue arrest warrants.

After the arrest, officers must inform the suspects about their important Miranda rights before questioning can begin. Judges can throw cases out if suspects aren't advised of their Constitutional rights to remain silent and to have an attorney present when being questioned.

The suspect is then booked at a police station. Personal items such as money and jewelry are taken for safekeeping, and the suspect is photographed and fingerprinted.

First Appearance

A person who's arrested in Utah is immediately taken to a magistrate, who will tell the suspect about the charges and advise him of his rights to a jury trial and an attorney, as well as other legal protections. A date is set for the preliminary hearing.


At the preliminary hearing, prosecutors appear before a judge and submit what they hope is enough evidence to show there was probable cause for the arrest. Defendants can present evidence at this hearing, but they usually don't. If the judge agrees that there's probable cause, the case is bound over for trial and an arraignment is scheduled. At that hearing, the defendant formally pleads to the charge. Sometimes, particularly in misdemeanor cases, a defendant will plead guilty or no contest, and sentencing is scheduled.

Making a Deal

Most criminal cases are resolved when the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to reduced charges or in exchange for a lighter sentence. Utah judges usually abide by plea agreements, though they don't have to.

Grand Juries

In Utah it's extremely rare for a case to go to a grand jury. Usually, grand juries deal only with charges of major corruption or crimes involving law enforcement. An indictment occurs when 75 percent of the nine to 15 grand jurors agree that the prosecutor has presented enough evidence to indicate a crime has been committed.

The Trial

Criminal defendants can be tried by a jury or before a judge if both sides agree. Most felony trials are before juries. Both sides present evidence and arguments, then the jury decides if the prosecuting attorney has proven the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If all jurors can't agree on a unanimous verdict for all charges, a mistrial will be declared. Those charges not agreed upon can be tried again before new jurors.

Though Utah has broad sentencing guidelines, judges have some leeway in determining sentences. A number of factors are considered that can make the sentence longer or shorter than normal, such as whether the defendant has a long criminal record or the crime was particularly violent.

Consult a Lawyer

This article is an overview of Utah's criminal law system. If you're accused of a crime, contact a lawyer quickly so that you can get legal advice geared toward your specific case.

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