Salt Lake Criminal Defense Attorney - Clayton Simms

new_clayton_about A criminal charge, whether it is a felony or misdemeanor, can be a life changing event. Clayton Simms is a fierce advocate for people who have been charged with misdemeanor and felony offenses. He represents clients who are facing charges in Salt Lake City and Greater Salt Lake County. In addition, he also represents clients along the Wasatch front. Clayton Simms represents defendants in other crimes Clayton has represented athletes, doctors, lawyers, and other notable people and has been featured on the news. Do you have a legal question? Contact Clayton Simms today!

Theft of Pets in Utah

Theft of pets are on the rise in Utah and many residents are inquiring what the laws are regarding stealing someone else’s companion animal.

Pets are property

Photo by: Sue Salisbury

Most people that own pets will say their fur-babies are family. According to Utah law however, pets are not children; they are considered property instead. Stealing a pet is not kidnapping or dognapping- it is theft. Theft of property such as a dog, cat, bike, or DVD player is punishable depending on the value of the property. Although pet owners would say it is impossible to put a dollar amount on a pet, many animals were either purchased or adopted for a fee which could be used to determine a monetary amount.

Monetary Value

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Domesticated pets such as small mammals and cats do not have a high monetary value but purebred dogs and specialty or exotic animals can range greatly in price and value. Birds such as large Cockatoos and Macaws can be worth thousands of dollars while purebred dogs can vary from $300 to as much as $14,000 depending on the type of dog, their lineage, and whether or not they come with papers. The punishment for theft of a pet depends on what that animal is worth. According to Utah Code 76-6-412:

• If the value of the pet is less than $500, the dog thief may face class B misdemeanor charges;
• If the pet is worth more than $500 but less than $1,500, it is a class A misdemeanor;
• Theft of a pet valued at more than $1,500 but less than $5,000 is a third degree felony;
• Stealing pricey animals that exceed the monetary value of $5,000 can result in second degree felonies.

These charges are enhanced if the offender has prior offenses related to theft, burglary, or robbery.

Reason for stealing an animal

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The majority of pet thefts occur for the purpose of making a dishonest profit by reselling the animal, however there are other reasons for stealing pets that could result in separate charges.

• Waiting for the reward. Many times when a pet goes missing, the family will offer a reward for the safe return of their furry family member. Some pets are stolen and then given back to the family once the reward is offered. Even if the plan is to return to pet, it is still considered theft or perhaps wrongful appropriation which is punishable one degree lower than theft according to Utah Code 76-6-404.5.

• Relocating a neighbor’s pet. Some pet thefts occur from a disgruntled neighbor getting rid of a nuance animal.There have been cases throughout Utah of animals being stolen and dropped off in remote areas or even let out of a fenced yard. Stealing a pet to abandon it or releasing it on the street could constitute cruelty to animals if the animal is left in what section 76-9-301 states to be a “situation where conditions present an immediate, direct, and serious threat to the life, safety, or health of the animal.” Charges for intentional abandonment of an animal can range from a class C to class B misdemeanor.

Photo by: Stacy

• Fighting dogs. Sadly, some breeds that get a bad rap for being prone to dog aggression are often stolen based on that natural tendency. Pit bulls which are quickly becoming a beloved pet among families also have a history of violence towards other dogs and people if they are treated or raised poorly. This breed is known for being powerful while doing a lot of damage when they do attack and that may be why they are so popular in the illegal dog fighting ring. If dogs are stolen for use in dog fighting, the charges can include theft as well as third degree felony charge for training or causing a dog to fight as stated in Utah Code 76-9-301.1.

Missing or stolen

While there is an uptick of pet thefts throughout Utah, there are also many animals that go missing without any human involvement. Missing pets should be reported to animal control and posted on flyers as well as social media sources to get the word around. If someone truly feels their pet has been stolen, the owner should notify the authorities while also keeping an eye on resale sights such as Craigslist and Facebook yard sale sights. For anyone charged with stealing a pet whether to make a quick buck, get back at a neighbor, or commit another crime involving the pet, it is important to speak to an attorney about the charges prior to admitting fault to police.

Utah Women Arrested for Attempting to Traffic Meth over Southern Utah Border

Two separate incidents within a single week of December have ended in officers arresting multiple women for attempting to traffic meth over the southern Utah border near St. George.

I-15 drug corridor

Photo by: Nancy

I-15 is known as a drug corridor which is evident in two similar cases that happened south of St. George, Utah last month. In one incident, 43 year old Tara Evans of Annabella Utah was stopped for traffic violations in Mesquite Nevada, located about 30 miles south of the Utah border. A search of the vehicle Evans was driving turned up over four ounces of methamphetamine. Although she was only in possession of around four ounces of methamphetamine, she was charged by Nevada law as trafficking a controlled substance. This could be due to her admitting she brought the drugs with her over the border or the charging officer assuming that was the case.

Drug run to Nevada

In another incident that same week, two women from southern Utah were arrested shortly after passing through Mesquite Nevada and crossing back over the border into Utah. A search of that vehicle occupied by 30 year old Ashley Marie Harmer and 21 year old Mackenzie Lee Clark turned up multiple large wrapped packages of methamphetamine along with other instruments used to sell the substance. Harmer and Clark admitted to traveling to Nevada to obtain the drugs to transport back into the state of Utah.

Drug charges in two states

All three women are facing felony drug charges. Evans was arrested in Nevada and faces felony charges for drug trafficking there. Harmer and Clark were arrested in Utah for possession of meth with the intent to distribute. Since Clark is a first time offender, she faces third degree felony charges while Harmer faces first degree charges since this is not her first rodeo with drug trafficking and distribution. While all three women are facing charges in the state they were arrested in, it is possible they could face federal drug trafficking charges as well since they crossed over state lines while in possession of a controlled substance. Whether facing state or federal penalties, anyone facing drug charges are encouraged to refrain from admitting anything to authorities and seeking appropriate legal counsel immediately.

Reduce the Risk of Additional Charges Following an Arrest

When someone is placed under arrest, they are booked under specific charges pertaining to that arrest. Just as the individuals arrested can fight to have charges reduced or dropped, there is also the chance that extra charges can be added following the arrest.

Failure to comply with arrest and booking

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One main cause of added charges following an arrest is due to the behavior of the alleged offender during the time of being arrested and placed behind bars. Being handcuffed and whisked off to jail is a stressful moment that can unfortunately bring out the worst in people. Some individuals make a bad situation worse by:

• Resisting arrest or as Utah Code 76-8-305 states “refusing to perform any act required by lawful order necessary to effect the arrest or detention (…) made by a peace officer”, a class B misdemeanor;
• Attempting to flee police, a class A misdemeanor;
Spitting, urinating, or propelling any bodily fluid at an officer, potentially adding a third degree felony onto the list of charges;
• Physically assaulting an officer while in the custody of law enforcement, a third degree felony defined by section 76-5-102.5. If the charges are enhanced to aggravated assault by a prisoner, then the defendant may face an additional second or first degree felony as stated in 76-5-103.5; or
• Once at the local jail, kicking, punching, or otherwise damaging jail property, resulting in an added third degree felony.

Regardless of whether or not the arrestee feels they should be taken into police custody, they are encouraged to be respectful and cooperative during and after being read their Miranda rights. This does not mean they have to converse with officers regarding details of the arrest however, as that in itself can lead to added charges.

Spilling all the beans

Photo by: Emilio Küffer

While there are some who react vehemently to being placed under arrest, there are others who go too far the other direction by trying to be overly compliant to officers on the scene. In an effort to possibly smooth things over, some arrestees decide to share every single detail related to the charges. Not only can their over-the-top candor cement the charges against that individual, it can help investigators who may already be trying to tie other charges to the defendant. It is best to politely decline any discussion with officers until an attorney is present.

Accumulating charges prior to trial

Another way charges can be added is if more evidence comes to light or if the prosecution attempts to add or enhance charges. For example, if a person is arrested for possession of marijuana, the prosecution could look at the amount of marijuana in question, and attempt to call it enough to charge the defendant with intent to distribute, even if it was initially determined to be only for personal use. If the person drove through a school zone with the marijuana in their car, the prosecution could also add enhanced possession in a school zone charges. Maybe they had kids in the home or car, so by all means throw in some child abuse or child neglect charges on top. Also known as stacking charges, this is a common occurrence and a reason so many individuals get scared into accepting plea deals (a.k.a. pleading guilty to lesser charges) without first obtaining proper counsel for themselves.

Have an attorney ready

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With so many variables working against someone following an arrest, the best plan to avoid additional charges is to:

• remain calm;
• be prepared with the name of a reputable attorney;
• give the defense attorney’s name to authorities during the arrest;
• Stay quiet until advised otherwise by counsel; and finally
• Trust that a knowledgeable attorney will be able to see through charge stacking to decide the best option possible for each defendant depending on their specific case.