Panhandling Laws in Utah

Utah residents may often be approached on the road or sidewalks by individuals requesting monetary donations and while panhandling is legal, there are laws that need to be followed to avoid citations.


Photo by: Steve Baker

Panhandling is simply defined as approaching and begging from a stranger. Panhandling is often done to obtain money but someone can also beg for other items such as food, clothing, or fuel. Some less fortunate individuals beg for money or food because they are unable to obtain them due to unemployment, mental or emotional illnesses, or other hardships. Sadly, panhandling is also done by those seeing the act as an easy way to get cash tax free. Regardless of the reason for accosting others for handouts, those who approach strangers should be aware of the laws regarding panhandling in Utah.

Begging near banks

Asking strangers for money is not against the law and is protected under the First Amendment freedom of speech clause. Panhandlers should never threaten or assault those who refuse to donate and Utah code 41-6a-1009 warns those soliciting money from others that they are not allowed to “solicit money or goods . . . in an aggressive manner” near a bank or ATM. As long as they are not seen as a danger to others, panhandlers are allowed to beg on the sidewalk or along many smaller Utah roads.

Approaching vehicles

When it comes to soliciting money and food on roadways, Utah Code 41-6a-1009 was updated last year to keep panhandlers away from high speed or high traffic areas. That section now states: “an individual may not impede or block traffic” by “accepting, transacting, exchanging, or otherwise taking possession or control of money or property from a person within a motor vehicle” if they are “on the interstate, freeway, highways or any road that has a “speed limit of 35 miles per hour or higher.” These areas include “shoulder areas . . . ; on-ramps; off-ramps, and an area between the roadways of a divided highway. “

Panhandling penalties

Anyone found panhandling on a busy road or an area described above as being off-limits will receive an infraction. If within one calendar year they are cited three or more times for panhandling in a restricted area, they will face a class C misdemeanor.

Utah Pedestrian Laws

There are numerous laws that apply only to Utah drivers on the road however there is also a list of pedestrian laws for those navigating Utah streets on foot.

Traffic signals and sidewalks

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Utah Code 41-6a part 10 discusses the use of roadways by pedestrians and informs those out walking or running what is expected of them while on Utah roads. Beyond obeying “the instructions of a traffic-control device specifically applicable to the pedestrian”, pedestrians are also expected to follow the rules regarding where they are permitted to be while on foot. Most busy roads throughout Utah and several residential areas have sidewalks accessible to pedestrians. If a sidewalk if available, it is not just a suggestion for pedestrians to use- it is the law. 41-6a-1009 states if “there is a sidewalk provided and its use is practicable, a pedestrian may not walk along or on [a] . . . roadway”.

Sidewalk less roads

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There are areas in Utah such as rural neighborhoods or highways (paved roads with speeds above 35 mph) where sidewalks are not available. When this is the case, Utah Code 41-6a-1009 instructs residents to think safely and “walk as near as practicable to the outside edge of the roadway”. They also note that “if on a two-way roadway, [pedestrians should] walk only on the left side of the roadway facing traffic.” This does not pertain to freeways however, as “a pedestrian may not walk along or on a no-access freeway facility except during an emergency.” Additionally, pedestrians are warned not to “impede or block traffic” along any interstate, freeway or state route highway unless during an emergency. These areas include “shoulder areas . . . ; on ramps; . . . and [the] area between the roadways of a divided highway.”

Yield right-of-way

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Some pedestrians assume that when they step into the roadway, drivers are solely responsible for avoiding a collision. While drivers should use caution when foot-travelers are around, pedestrians only have the right-of-way when they are in a crosswalk (marked or unmarked). Otherwise, the drivers have the right-of-way on all Utah roads while pedestrians “may not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard” as stated by Utah Code 41-6a-1002. Most pedestrian violations will result in an infraction, while some violations such as blocking traffic on a highway could result in a class C misdemeanor. One thing is certain: if pedestrians do not use caution while on roadways, the odds will always be against them when a moving vehicle is involved.

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.