Utah Celebrates the New Year as Reduced BAC Limit Officially Goes into Effect

Just in time to celebrate New Year’s Eve, Utah’s reduced BAC limit officially went into effect Sunday, but surprisingly did not result in an uptick of DUI arrests.

Drinking holiday

Photo by: BluEyedA73

New Year’s Eve is known for being a holiday that many spend intoxicated, whether through pounding beers with friends or sipping champagne at a party as the countdown to the New Year befalls. This holiday is so widely centered on alcohol that organizations such as AAA was offering those who were inebriated a free ride home for them and their vehicle in order to help reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road after midnight. Utah had its own way of getting ready for the holiday however, as the new reduced BAC limit went into effect a day prior to the festivities.

Utah’s reduced BAC limit

Utah’s new reduced BAC limit, or the legal limit of blood-alcohol content for drivers in Utah was set into motion in early 2017, amid protests from residents and businesses. Regardless of the backlash from the community, Utah lawmakers passed the new BAC limit with it going into effect December 30, 2018. Utah Code 41-6a-502 now states “A person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state if the person:

(a) Has sufficient alcohol in the person’s body that a subsequent chemical test shows that the person has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .05 grams or greater at the time of the test;

(b) 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; or

(c) Has a blood or breath alcohol concentration of .05 grams or greater at the time of operation or actual physical control.”

Prior to the legal change of the allowable blood-alcohol content, Utah’s limits matched those around the county set at .08 grams. Now Utah has one of the lowest tolerances for alcohol use before driving than any other in the country.

When is “one too many”?

Photo by: Jeffrey Smith

While everyone can agree that drunk driving is a dangerous activity that kills hundreds of people each year, many Utah residents still scoff at the reduced BAC limit. Many of those who are upset at the new law are those who would like to legally enjoy a couple drinks with dinner or after work without worrying about finding a designated driver. One problem with the occasional social drink however, is the drastic difference in how it could affect each individual person and whether it could lead to “one too many” drinks before hitting the road. One shot of whiskey or a single glass of wine may have been okay for some without their BAC rising about .08. Others though become incapable of merely walking a straight line to their car, their BAC increased to a limit too dangerous to drive. Factors such as gender, weight, and stomach contents come into play which can dramatically change who gets buzzed and who doesn’t.

Taking no chances

In its own obnoxious way, Utah’s reduced BAC limit may be beneficial as it makes everyone a little more cautious before hitting the roads. Instead of Utah residents wondering if that glass of champagne went straight to their head or not, anyone who drinks can just assume they may come up over the new reduced BAC limit and plan accordingly. After mere hours after being put into effect, this way of further separating drinking from driving might already be working. Only 11 DUI related arrests were reported by UHP during New Year’s Eve this year compared to nearly 50 last year. Perhaps this increased intolerance can help further lower the number of Utahans killed each year by those who should not have been behind the wheel. For those who feel they have been treated unfairly according to this new law, contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss options moving forward.

Sharing Prescription Drugs in Utah

Many Utah residents have faced legal or other unpleasant ramifications due to them lovingly, yet illegally sharing prescription drugs with their friends or family.

Care, don’t share

Photo by: Ajay Suresh

When a family member or friend is suffering from an ailment, loved ones want to do whatever possible to help relieve the symptoms being suffered. Perhaps a spouse is in pain after a lengthy dentist visit. Maybe an elderly neighbor has thrown out their back working in the yard. Or possibly an adult child is facing the pain that comes from an unexpected kidney stone. Sometimes an ice pack or a simple over the counter remedy does the trick when other times something stronger is needed. Instead of sending the unwell person to their primary care physician to legally obtain a necessary prescription, many Utah residents will head for their own prescription medications to treat a loved one-not realizing they are about to commit a crime.

Sharing is distribution

When a family member or friend shares a prescription with others, they are ultimately distributing that prescribed medication to another. Even if the person receiving the medication does not offer any sort of payment, it is still against the law. Utah Code 58-37-2 states: “Distribute means to deliver other than by administering or dispensing a controlled substance [through a pharmacy]”. That section also notes: “Deliver” or delivery” means the actual, constructive, or attempted transfer of a controlled substance or a listed chemical, whether or not any agency relationship exists.”

Criminal charges

Many prescription drugs including those meant to reduce pain or induce sleep are considered controlled substances by state and federal law. The Controlled Substances Act separates street and prescription drugs into different schedules depending on what they are used for, their potential for abuse, and their risk for harm. When someone shares a prescription drug that is considered a controlled substance, especially those that are a Schedule I or II drug, they may face serious criminal penalties. According to Utah Code 58-37-8:

• Anyone convicted of distributing a Schedule I controlled substance or a Schedule II controlled substance such as Adderall, Ritalin, Percocet, Vicodin, OxyContin, and Norco “ . . . is guilty of a second degree felony, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 15 years, and upon a second or subsequent conviction is guilty of a first degree felony.”

• Anyone convicted of sharing a Schedule III or IV controlled substances such as Suboxone, Tylenol with Codeine, Vicodin, Soma, Valium, Ativan, Xanax, “. . . or marijuana is guilty of a third degree felony, or [second degree felony upon a subsequent conviction].”

The recipients of someone else’s prescription drugs may themselves face criminal charges for possession.

Health risks

Beyond the criminal charges possible, family or friends could end up responsible for causing more misery to someone they care about. When prescription drugs are shared, the person to whom they are shared with may have adverse reactions to the medication that could have been avoided had they been under the care of a doctor. Additionally, if a prescription is shared that is a controlled substance, the recipient may develop a dependence to the medication that can completely derail their lives and send them down a path of addiction and pain far worse than they were originally facing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn, “In 2016, more than 11.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription opioids in the past year.” That figure only includes those who reported their misuse, and may not include those who are getting their meds from a family member. For more information on criminal charges related to sharing prescription drugs, contact a criminal defense attorney. For help regarding substance abuse including prescription drugs, contact the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to find a treatment center nearest you.

Aggravated Murder Charges for Utah Teacher Who Shot Husband’s Girlfriend

A Utah teacher has been arrested for aggravated murder after she shot and killed the girlfriend of her ex-husband while the teacher’s three year old twins watched in horror.

In the presence of children

Photo by: RONg

32 year old Chelsea Cook, a teacher at Skyridge High School in the Alpine Utah district was arrested after she opened fire on 26 year old Lisa Williams who was dating Cook’s ex-husband. Cook came to her ex-husband’s apartment in Midvale, Utah to bring medicine to one of her three year old twins who were in the care of their father and his girlfriend, Williams. After delivering the medicine, Cook let herself inside the apartment uninvited where Williams was decorating the Christmas tree with the two toddlers. Cook locked herself in the bathroom and refused to leave. When she finally emerged, she went to her jacket and retrieved a firearm. She then pointed the weapon at Williams and opened fire. Following the shooting, Cook went to her two children who were present during the traumatizing incident while her ex-husband attempted to give first aid to Williams. Cook then made her way again to her jacket and was physically restrained by her ex-husband until police and emergency crews arrived. Cook was then arrested while Williams was transported to the hospital where she later died from her injuries.

Aggravated murder

Cook was arrested for aggravated murder, which carries more severe penalties than murder. Murder, which is described as “. . . [intentionally or knowingly] causing the death of another person is a first-degree felony, punishable by life in prison and a $10,000 fine. Aggravated murder is also done intentionally or knowingly but with other factors that make the crime more serious. Some of these factors or elements may include when the homicide:

• took place in a jail or prison;
• occurred during a robbery, rape, sexual abuse, arson, kidnapping, or other serious offense;
• was committed by someone who was already convicted of murder;
• was committed by someone with a criminal history of aggravated assault, kidnapping, rape, felony discharge of a firearm, or other crime listed in Utah Code 76-5-202 (1)(j);
• prevented a witness from testifying or otherwise “distrupt[ed] or hinder[ed] any lawful governmental function.

In the case of Cook, she opened fire on Williams while her ex-husband and two small children were also in the room. This “. . . knowingly created a great risk of death to a person other than the victim and the actor” as stated in Utah Code 76-5-202 which enhances her crime of murder aggravated murder. Aggravated murder is punishable as a first degree felony with life in prison or a capitol felony if prosecutors seek the death penalty.

Premeditated or crime of passion

It is unknown if Cook planned on killing Williams or if it was a crime of passion after seeing her children and ex with another woman. She was carrying a weapon, but so are many residents throughout Utah. Did she in fact go to the apartment with the plan to kill Williams or did she completely lose it after arriving to see someone else living her life, happily making Christmas ornaments with her children. A crime of passion or heat of passion occurs when someone feels immense feelings such as rage and reacts violently. Many times crimes of passion occur between romantic partners especially when someone feels betrayed perhaps by a cheating partner. Cook and her ex-husband were divorced, but even strong feelings as a mother feeling the loss of her children to another woman could have pushed her over the edge, leading her to brutally remove the person standing in the way of her children. Crimes of passion and other crimes that occur when the individual is not in the right mind do not go unpunished, especially in the state of Utah. They can however, lead toward leniency regarding punishments which for Cook, could mean the difference between life and death.