Small Central Utah Town Setting Records in Drug DUI Arrests

The small, central Utah town of Richfield is setting records for its drug DUI arrests after being well-funded by the state of Utah to get impaired drivers off the street.

Small town – big reputations

Photo by: Ken Lund

Richfield City, the county seat of Sevier County, is smaller than 73 other cities in Utah but that doesn’t keep the town’s web page from boasting that it is: “. . . the hub of Central Utah, [and] the largest city for more than a hundred miles”. With a population of a mere 7,750 residents, nearby towns must be miniscule for Richfield to be able to possess that title. Being the largest town of central Utah is not the only reputation Richfield City has either; they also have a high arrest per resident ratio in regards to DUIs.

DUI rate vs Population

According to the Sixteenth Annual DUI Report to the Utah Legislature, throughout the state of Utah, “10,383 DUI-related arrests were made in FY 2018.” They also note that statewide (which includes larger cities such as those in the Salt Lake Valley) the DUI-related arrest rate is “33.5 per 10,000 population”. In pint-sized Richfield City, the amount of DUI arrests is roughly three times that of the entire statewide average.Some speculate that perhaps Richfield has such a high DUI rate due to the small town/big problems theory that no one has anything else to do besides get inebriated and drive around. In reality, there are several reason why Richfield is leading the pack with DUI arrests.

Combining factors

Photo by: 911 Bail Bonds Las Vegas

Although there’s a chance Richfield has some basic small town problems, one of them does not appear to be more individuals driving impaired. Somehow however, their officers are making more DUI arrests. A few reasons for this may include:

Type of DUI arrest. When people hear “DUI” their first thought is of people driving under the influence of alcohol. Utah Code 41-6A-502 states “A person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state if the person: . . . is under the influence of alcohol, any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle”. The majority of the DUI arrests in Richfield city are not alcohol related. Drug DUI arrests in Richfield from substances such as marijuana, meth, and even prescription drugs are the main source of the town’s two-year DUI record. While alcohol leaves a person feeling tipsy and notably impaired, many drivers falsely assume they are okay to drive a couple hours after getting high or taking meds to manage their pain. A quick swab of the cheek or a blood test done later can confirm arresting officer’s suspicion of drug use prior to driving.

Location, location, location. Richfield is located along the I-70 corridor, a stretch of road linking Nevada to Utah and Utah to Colorado that is known for drug trafficking. Additionally, I-70 runs directly into I-15, another main artery of drug movement that travels from southern California through Vegas and all the way into Canada. The positioning of Richfield in close proximity to these dual drug trafficking corridors could increase the chances of local officers pulling over out-of-town traffickers for simple traffic violations. Additionally, Richfield officers may have a better chance at catching Utahns coming back from visiting marijuana friendly Colorado.

Focused intent. One of the top reasons Richfield may be leading the pack for drug DUI arrests is their focused intent on catching impaired drivers. Last year Richfield chose to focus less on finding drug users and instead put more emphasis on cracking down on those users when they got behind the wheel. Although the focus on DUIs may help keep people safer on Richfield roads, it just so happens to also result in greater incarceration rates than possession charges alone.

Photo by: 401(k) 2012

Financial recompense. Due to the rising DUI arrests as a result of Richfield’s focused intent on drug DUIs, the state of Utah has decided to allot (reward) money to Richfield which will help them keep the momentum going. This extra funding enables Richfield to allow select officers to work longer hours. It would not be surprising to find the overtime officers were drug recognition experts trained at spotting impaired drivers either. While Utah taxpayers may wonder where these extra funds allotted to this small town are coming from, it is the arrestees themselves paying for it as they pay to recover vehicles impounded during an arrest. Regardless of where the funds originate from, the extra money is likely a major motivator in bringing in higher DUI arrests.

Drug DUI attorney

Drug DUI arrests can result in criminal charges ranging from a class B misdemeanor for first-offenders to a third degree felony for repeat offenders or instances where a serious injury occurred.Anyone facing charges for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is encouraged to speak to an attorney regarding their options moving forward and how to best put their illegal action behind them. All other Utah residents should make certain they are not impaired in any way prior to getting behind the wheel – especially when visiting the small town of Richfield City, Utah.

Utah Police Chief Arrested for Prescription Drug DUI

A Utah police chief was arrested for prescription drug DUI after a highway patrol officer observed the chief driving recklessly north of the town of Manua.

Reckless driving

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On a late January evening, Utah Highway Patrol trooper Kent Goodrich observed a Manua police vehicle driving at a high rate of speed down the median of Highway 89. Goodrich pulled the other police vehicle over and noted the driver, 49 year old Manua Police Chief Shane Zilles appeared to be inebriated. Zilles was cooperative, yet failed a field sobriety test and struggled answering simple questions being asked him as of him. Trooper Goodrich arrested Zilles as he was notably impaired and should not have been on the road putting other people and himself in danger.

Prescription Drug DUI

Zilles inability to pass the field test pointed to him likely being impaired by either alcohol or drugs. Although Zilles appeared to be intoxicated, there was no alcohol detected through a breathalyzer and a tox screen for street drugs came back negative as well. It was determined however that Zilles had not been drinking or using street drugs, yet he had consumed prescription drugs sometime prior to getting behind the wheel of the police cruiser. He was cited for prescription drug DUI and reckless driving.

Class B misdemeanor

Taking prescription drugs is not against the law if taken by the person to whom it is prescribed. It is unlawful however to drive after taking medication if it impairs the person’s ability to drive safely. Utah Code 41-6a-502 states “A person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state if the person:

• . . . is under the influence of alcohol, any drug, or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that renders the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle”.

Section 41-6a-504 warns that “The fact that a person charged with violating section 41-6a-502 is or has been legally entitled to use alcohol or a drug is not a defense against any charge of violating [said section]. Even if the prescription if legal and valid, driving under the influence of prescription drugs that cause impairment is a class B misdemeanor as noted in section 41-6a-503. That DUI charge could be enhanced to a class A misdemeanor or third degree felony if there was bodily injury as a result of an accident or a minor passenger in the vehicle.

Medication side-effects

As a law enforcement officer, Zilles should have known better than to drive impaired. When alcohol or street drugs are involved, impairment is expected. Prescription drugs however could cause impairment that is unknown to the user. Regarding Zilles, there is some information that hasn’t been released yet:

• what type of prescription drugs he was taking; and
• Whether or not it was a new prescription or something he had experience taking and therefore would have known the side effects.

While there are some medications that are known to cause drowsiness and reduced ability to drive such as sleeping pills or narcotic pain meds, others can catch a person off guard by how much they affect their capability to drive safely. It is important to read the labels and all included paperwork with new medications to see if driving impairment is a possibility. If there is any doubt on whether or not impairment could be a factor when taking a prescription medication, drivers are urged to use caution and refrain from driving if possible. Anyone facing charges related to prescription drug DUI are encouraged to seek counsel from an experience attorney.

Impaired Driving – The Reduced DUI Charge for Utah Drivers

Utah drivers who are arrested for a DUI need to know there’s a chance they may be offered a reduced charge known as impaired driving. Although this charge is slightly better than a DUI, it is best to consult with a criminal defense attorney to find out if it is the best option available.

Don’t settle without legal counsel

DUI

Photo by: SanDiego DUIAttorney

When a driver is arrested for a DUI, they may accept whatever charges are thrown at them; this is a major mistake that many Utah drivers make. There is a possibility that a DUI charge can be reduced to impaired driving instead. The option for this reduced charge is not something the prosecution will always offer voluntarily, so it is encouraged to have an educated attorney on your side can help ensure this option is available to those who qualify. If a prosecutor willingly and swiftly offers a plea bargain of impaired driving, it is best to consult with an attorney before agreeing as there may be a better option out there.

DUI-Driving under the influence

A DUI is what Utah Code 41-6a-502 defines as “driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both or with specified or unsafe blood alcohol concentration”. A person may face a DUI charge if they operate a vehicle with a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .08 grams or higher. They may also face a DUI charge if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs which would “render the person incapable of safely operating a vehicle.” If someone is arrested for a DUI, it is considered a class B misdemeanor and the guilty party can plan on spending at least 48 hours of jail time, losing their Utah’s driver’s license, and dishing out a hefty fine.

DWI – driving while impaired (impaired driving)

Impaired Driving

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DUI and impaired driving; these two terms may sound like different ways of saying the same thing, but there are slight differences that are important to understand. Impaired driving is considered a reduced DUI charge of one degree and according to Utah Code 41-6a-502.5, “[w]ith the agreement of the prosecutor, a plea to a class B misdemeanor violation of [a DUI] may be entered as a conviction of impaired driving ( . . . ) if:

a) The defendant completes court ordered probation requirements; or

b) (i) the prosecutor agrees as part of a negotiated plea; and

(ii) the court find the plea to be in the interest of justice.”
Those facing impaired driving charges are less likely to spend time in jail and will usually have a smaller fine.

Additionally, those facing impaired driving charges will typically either have their driver’s license suspended for half the time of what can happen with a DUI or they may not lose their license at all.

Not for everyone

Not all DUI charges have the potential for being reduced to an impaired driving charge. These plea deals are saved for those who are first time offenders without a criminal history. If someone is hurt or if a minor is in the vehicle at the time of arrest, then a DUI charge will not decrease but increase instead to a class B misdemeanor. If a person is seriously injured because of someone negligently driving under the influence, then the charges can increase even higher to a third degree felony. This is the same charge for repeat offenders with two or more convictions of a DUI or impaired driving within the last 10 years. Regardless of whatever charges a defendant is facing, a criminal defense attorney will help ensure the best possible outcome for his client.