Sentencing Guidelines in Utah

Once someone has pleaded guilty or been found guilty of a crime, sentencing will soon follow which depends on many factors specific to the case as well as Utah law and the sentencing guidelines stated by the Utah Sentencing Commission.

Lesser offenses

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When someone breaks the law, the crime committed could be a minor offense such as an infraction, a more significant offense like a misdemeanor, or even a serious felony offense. What each crime is classified as along with the possible punishment for breaking that specific law can be found in the Utah State Code. Infractions such as most traffic violations do not result time behind bars, just a monetary fine no greater than $750. Misdemeanors are offenses that are considered worse than infractions, but not as severe as a felony and can result in fines and jail time. According to Utah Courts, a misdemeanor offense is broken down into three categories that include:

• Class C misdemeanors such as driving without registration or negligent cruelty to animals, punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine up to $750;
• Class B misdemeanors including prostitution and harassment, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine up to $1,000;
• Class A misdemeanors such as stalking and reckless endangerment, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine up to $2,500;

Major offenses

A felony is the most severe of crimes and could result in a fine and prison. Felonies are categorized into four groups:

• Third-degree felonies including habitual wanton destruction of protected wildlife and felony discharge of a firearm with no injuries, punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of no more than $5,000;
• Second-degree felonies such as burglary of a dwelling and possession of child pornography which carry possible prison terms of 1 to 15 years in prison and a possible fine of $10,000;
• First-degree felonies for example rape and sodomy on a child, punishable by 5 years to life in prison and a fine no greater than $10,000;
• Capital felonies such as murder can result in either life in prison with or without parole and even the death penalty.

Sentencing guidelines and matrix

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Although many crimes have already been categorized along with appropriate punishment decided by the Utah Legislature, there are many other factors that are taken into account before a judge will decide on a sentence. The Utah Sentencing Commission has issued a manual complete with guidelines and a matrix that can be followed to ensure that sentencing is fair for each specific case. According to the Utah Sentencing Commission Philosophy Statement, “The Sentencing Commission promotes evidence-based sentencing policies that effectively address the three separate goals of criminal sentencing:

• Risk Management [imposing a punishment or penalty that is proportionate to the gravity of the offense and the culpability of the offender.]
• Risk Reduction [appropriate identification and reduction of an offender’s individual criminal risk factors.]
• Restitution [repayment of damages to the community or to victims resulting from an offense]”

According to Utah Courts, the guidelines and matrix designed by the Sentencing Commission takes into account things such as:

• “Aggravating factors” such as significance of injuries and the relationship between the offender and victim;
• Enhanced penalties such as if a deadly weapon is used or if the offender is a repeat offender; and
• “Mitigating factors” that can include the offender’s behavior since the crime or a clinical evaluation on their mental health during the crime.

According to the Utah Sentencing Commission, “Utah law provides the basis for the sentencing and release of criminal offenders. ( . . . ) The guidelines are an attempt to further structure decision-making relative to sentencing and release, yet still retain the flexibility to deal with individual cases.” Use of these guidelines along with the Utah statutes should ensure anyone facing criminal charges is treated fairly and individually. To ensure this, it is best to have legal representation before and during sentencing hearings.

Six Arrested in West Valley Gang-Related Shooting

Six individuals were arrested in West Valley City, Utah for what is being considered a gang-related shooting that has left a teenager paralyzed from the waist down.

Minors and adults involved

Gang-Related Shooting Investigation

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The six individuals arrested were either directly involved or involved in incidents that led up to the shooting. The suspects included two teens who were 15 and 16 years old as well as four adults who were all barely legal at only 18 to 19 years old. The gang-related shooting took place after a meet up between two gangs in West Valley City where the use of a firearm was allegedly prearranged. During the incident, multiple shots were fired and a 16 year old victim was rushed to the hospital where it was determined a bullet had struck his spine, paralyzing him from the waist down.

Enhanced penalties for gang-related shooting

When a crime such as a gang-related shooting can be linked to a “criminal street gang” or even a small group of people, the charges can be increased or enhanced. Utah Code 76-3-203.1 states “the enhanced penalty for a:

(a) class B misdemeanor is a class A misdemeanor;

(b) class A misdemeanor is a third degree felony;

(c) third degree felony is a second degree felony;

(d) second degree felony is a first degree felony; “

According to the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office, those arrested in the gang-related shooting incident were booked under charges including felony discharge of a firearm. Under normal criminal circumstances, discharge of a firearm which results in serious bodily injury of a person is already a first degree felony. According to the above code, the enhanced penalty for a “first degree felony is an indeterminate prison term of not less than five years in addition to the statutory minimum prison term for the offense, and which may be for life.”

“Criminal Street Gang”

Photo by: Alessandro Galantucci

Photo by: Alessandro Galantucci

Utah Code 76-9-802 defines a criminal street gang as “an organization, association in fact, or group of three or more persons, whether operated formally or informally:

(a) that is currently in operation;

(b) that has as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more predicate gang crimes;

(c) that has, as a group, an identifying name or identifying sign or symbol, or both; and

(d) whose members, acting individually or in concert with other members, engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.

Small group of associates

Utah code 76-3-203.1 augments that enhanced penalties can result for those known to be in criminal street gangs, but also “in concert with two or more persons” which means “the defendant was aided or encouraged by at least two other persons in committing the offense and was aware of this aid or encouragement; and

(ii) each of the other persons:

(A) was physically present; or

(B) participated as a party to any offense listed in Subsection (5).”

(c) “In concert with two or more persons” means, regarding intent:

(i) other persons participating as parties need not have the intent to engage in the same offense or degree of offense as the defendant; and

(ii) a minor is a party if the minor’s actions would cause the minor to be a party if the minor were an adult.”

Attorney needed

Credit photo: Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals

Credit photo: Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals

The majority of people are aware of the safety and criminal risks associated with gang involvement, however they may not understand that the penalties for many crimes are increased solely on the fact that there are ties to criminal street gangs. Their surprise is even greater for those facing enhanced charges merely for working with two or more people to commit the crime. Although facing criminal charges without counsel is never recommended, it is particularly important to be represented by a qualified criminal defense attorney if facing enhanced charges due gang-relations or group criminal events.