What is the criminal court process in Utah?

This is a simplified diagram showing the Utah criminal court process.  Below is a written explanation of each step.

Utah Criminal Court Process

1.   Formal or Informal Investigation.  The beginning of every case involves some sort of investigation.  In misdemeanor cases, this investigation is usually done by street officers.  In felony cases, special investigators or detectives will often conduct the investigation.

2.   Case Screened by Police or Prosecutor.  After the initial investigation, the police will either charge a person by citation, or they will send the case to the Prosecutor to be screened. When the Prosecutor receives a case to be screened, he or she will look at the evidence to determine if there is a “reasonable likelihood of conviction.” If they think they have enough evidence, they will file charges. If they do not have enough evidence, they will either dismiss the case, or ask the police to do additional investigation.

3.   A Charge is Filed Against a Person.  A criminal case officially begins in the court system when the government charges a person with a crime by a citation or a document called a criminal “information.”  In class B or C misdemeanor cases, a police officer may file a citation with the court to bring the charge, but in class A misdemeanor or a felony cases, a citation is not permitted. Instead, the Prosecutor must file  Information to begin a case.  Once a case is filed, the accused person becomes the “Defendant.”

4.   Initial Appearance. (Class A Misdemeanors & Felonies Only)  The Court officially notifies a person of the charges against him or her.  The Court may also decide if a bail should be set and if any no contact orders for witnesses should be issued.  The Court then sets a date for a scheduling conference or waiver hearing.

5.   Scheduling Conference / Waiver Hearing. (Class A Misdemeanors & Felonies Only)  After both sides have an opportunity to review the evidence, the Prosecutor and Defense Attorney attempt to negotiate a case settlement. A judge may refuse to accept the settlement but usually will accept any agreement reached by the two sides. If the case is not settled, the case will be set for a Preliminary Hearing or for Arraignment.

6.   Preliminary Hearing. (Class A Misdemeanors & Felonies Only)  The Prosecutor presents evidence to show that there is enough evidence to “bind over” the case for trial.  If the judge believes that there is enough evidence to go to trial for each of the charges, the Court will set the case for a Pretrial Conference or a Trial.  If the judge believes that there is not enough evidence, the Court will dismiss the case.

7.   Arraignment.  The judge reads the charges.  The Defendant must then enter a plea. A judge may also decide if any no contact orders for witnesses should be issued.   If the Defendant pleads guilty or no contest, the case is set for Sentencing.  If the plea is not guilty, the case is set for a Pretrial Conference.

8.   Pre-trial Conferences.  In almost all cases, the court holds one or more pretrial conferences in which the Prosecutor and Defense Attorney again attempt to negotiate a settlement of the case.  A judge may refuse to accept the negotiated settlement but usually will accept any agreement reached by the two sides.  If the case is not settled, hearing dates and/or a trial date are set.

9.   Pre-trial Motions.  Before a trial begins, the Prosecutor or Defense Attorney may file motions with the Court.  A motion is a formal request for a judge to issue an order.  Pretrial motions may be done before or after the pretrial conference, but must be done at least five days before trial.  A judge considers and rules on all motions before a trial proceeds.

10.   Trial / Plea Bargain.  If no negotiation is reached, the Court conducts a trial at which a judge or jury determines the guilt or innocence of the Defendant. If the Defendant is found not guilty, he is acquitted, and the case is closed.  If the Defendant is found guilty, the case is set for sentencing.

11.   Sentencing.  If the Defendant is found guilty at trial or pleads guilty or no contest, then he has the right to be sentenced in no more than 45 days.  The Defendant also has the right to wait at least two days if he or she believes the judge’s mood on that particular day will affect the judgment.  The Defendant may also waive his right to be sentenced in 2–45 days and ask to be sentenced that day.

12.   Fine / Probation.  In most misdemeanor cases, judges order Defendants to pay a fine and comply with terms of probation.  If the fine is paid and all other terms of probation are completed, the case will be closed.  If the fine is not paid or probation is not completed, the judge may order jail or prison time.

13.   Incarceration.  If the crime is serious enough, the judge may order jail or prison time to be served.

Utah Criminal Defense Attorney Information

The attorneys at Intermountain Legal dedicate their practice to criminal defense.  Our firm has handled nearly every type of criminal case with successful outcomes.  Please contact a defense attorney at Intermountain Legal to discuss your case.  Call 801-990-4200 to speak directly to a criminal defense attorney.