Statute of Limitations for Criminal Cases in Utah

What is the statute of limitations for criminal cases in Utah and how does it differ for misdemeanors and felonies?

A quiet case doesn’t mean a closed case

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Sometimes when a crime has occurred, the person suspected of the crime is questioned, arrested, and soon after faces their day in court. Other times, the case can drag on as law enforcement and prosecutors gather evidence and testimonies in order to build their case against the suspect. When there has been no activity or questioning related to the case for weeks or months at a time, it may give those involved a false sense of security that they have somehow dodged an arrest and are in the clear. Imagine their surprise down the road when the investigation picks up speed and they end up facing charges after all. This may not seem fair and those facing delayed charges may wonder why so much time is able to pass while they remained in legal limbo. Surprisingly however, Utah law grants law enforcement and prosecutors a lengthy window of time to file criminal charges, with some cases being granted no limit on time.

Time limit for criminal charges

Most cases have a set amount of time that they can remain in “waiting” for prosecutors to conjure up charges. This time limit to file charges is known as the statute of limitations. According to Utahcourts.gov, “A statute of limitations is the time allowed to file a court case. Statutes of limitation apply in both civil and criminal cases. The statute of limitations for some cases is as short as six months, while some serious criminal offenses have no limit and can be files at any time, even decades after the crime occurred. Most statutes of limitation range from one to eight years.” Once the statute of limitations for that crime is over, any suspects in the case will be free any possibility of facing charges as Utah Courts declare “. . . the defendant cannot be prosecuted for that offense.”

Criminal statute of limitations

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The waiting game is difficult, especially when one is waiting to see if their life will drastically change due to criminal charges. If someone knows what type of charge they could be facing, they may be able to have an idea of how long the case could legally sit open prior to charges being made. Some of these statutes of limitations can be found in Utah Code. Section 76-1-302 states:

• “any infraction shall be commenced within one year after it is committed”;
• “a misdemeanor other than negligent homicide shall be commenced within two years after it is committed;”
• A felony or negligent homicide shall be commenced within four years after it is committed, except that prosecution for:
o Forcible sexual abuse [or incest] shall be commenced within eight years after the offense is committed, if within four years after its commission the offense is reported to a law enforcement agency”.

No time limits for some charges

There are some offenses where “. . . prosecution . . . may be commenced at any time” according to Utah Code 76-1-301. These offenses include:

(a) “Capital felony;
(b) Aggravated murder;
(c) Murder;
(d) Manslaughter;
(e) Child abuse homicide;
(f) Aggravated kidnapping;
(g) Child kidnapping;
(h) Rape;
(i) Rape of a child;
(j) Object rape;
(k) Object rape of a child;
(l) Forcible sodomy;
(m) Forcible sodomy on a child;
(n) Sexual abuse of a child;
(o) Aggravated sexual abuse of a child;
(p) Aggravated sexual assault
(q) Any predicate offense to a murder or aggravating offense to an aggravated murder;
(r) Aggravated human trafficking or aggravated human smuggling . . . ;
(s) Aggravated exploitation of prostitution involving a child.

Section 76-1-302 adds that prosecution on some of the major offenses “. . . may be commenced at any time if the identity of the person who committed the crime is unknown but DNA evidence is collected that would identify the person at a later date. [This] does not apply if the statute of limitations on a crime has run as of May 5, 2003, and no charges have been filed.”

Legal counsel prior to charges

While the above statute of limitations can give a person an idea of how long a case will remain open, there are other factors that can change the time limit given on a case. Some statute of limitations don’t begin when the offense was committed. Others may have the timer paused along the way. When legal trouble is imminent or on the distant horizon, it is always wise to have a reputable legal defense in your corner. An experienced criminal defense attorney can aid a client in knowing exactly what charges could be faced, the statute of limitations for those charges, and when the statute of limitations clock starts and finishes for each specific case. For all criminal matters, contact a defense attorney today.

Proof of Registration No Longer Needed When Driving in Utah

“License, registration, and insurance please;” is the greeting often heard when being pulled over, yet now that phrase will need to be adjusted as proof of registration is no longer needed when driving in Utah.

Changes to Utah law

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While registering a vehicle is still a requirement along with having a license and current insurance, Utah lawmakers have decided to be more lenient by no longer enforcing residents to carry the actual proof of registration in their vehicle. Utah Code 41-1a-214 now states: “For the convenience of a peace officer or any officer or employee of the division, the owner or operator of a vehicle is encouraged to carry the registration card in the vehicle for which the registration card was issued and display the registration card upon request.” While this wording still asks residents to carry their registration in their vehicle, wording such as “must” or “shall” have now been replaced with “[for] convenience” and “encouraged”.

Not needed anyway

Years ago when technology was in its infancy, having proof of registration made it easier for officers to ensure a vehicle being driven was properly registered by a licensed driver. Nowadays, law enforcement does not need to call in plates to check registration as they have laptops in their vehicle for quick access to registration database. Many police cruisers are also equipped with license-plate scanners that further reduce the need for any registration information to be carried by drivers.

Inconvenience and concern

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Not only was their no need for proof of registration, representatives in Utah also raised concerns that carrying registration papers in a vehicle at all times may be inconvenient while also being cause of concern for identity theft. Unlike a driver’s license and insurance card that can be tucked safely inside a wallet, registration papers are typically on full letter sized paper, making it unpractical for many to carry with them away from their vehicle.

Protecting private information

Registration papers not only contain a person’s name and physical address, it also includes a vehicles VIN number and the registrant’s signature. When a vehicle break-in occurs, it is not uncommon to find this treasure of personal information taken along with other items of value. Utah now gives residents the option of whether or not to keep proof of registration in their vehicle, and no longer requires such document to be signed. Driving without proof of registration was previously an infraction and is now a choice. For more information on this and other previously changed laws, see the 2018 General Session of the 62nd Legislature.

Utah’s Domestic Violence Laws Broaden Definition of Cohabitant

A bill recently passed in Utah that broadens the definition of cohabitant when referring to domestic violence laws to allow sexual partners who don’t live together to be able to file restraining orders if needed.

Current or former cohabitants only

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Nearly one year ago, a Sandy Utah mother and her six year old son were gunned down in the middle of the street by the mother’s ex-boyfriend. Memorez Rackley and her two sons were walking home from school when they were confronted by Jeremy Patterson, a man Rackley had sexual relations with but had never lived with. Rackley flagged down a passerby and attempted to get her children and herself safely in the vehicle. Patterson shot Rackley point blank and then opened fire on the car, killing six year old Jase. Prior to the death of mother and son, Patterson had grown increasingly irate after Rackley ended their relationship, threatening her life and her children’s lives multiple times and even texting a message to a friend, stating his intention on killing his former lover. Rackley had attempted to obtain a restraining order on Patterson who continued to stalk and harass but because the two had never lived together, the case didn’t fall under Utah’s domestic violence laws.

Domestic Violence in Utah

Until recently, Utah laws regarding domestic violence as stated in section 78B-7-102 defined a cohabitant as “a person who is 16 years of age or older who:

(a) Is or was a spouse of the other party;
(b) Is or was living as if a spouse of the other party;
(c) Is related by blood or marriage to the other party;
(d) Has or had one or more children in common with the other party;
(e) Is the biological parent of the other party’s unborn child; or
(f) Resides or has resided in the same resident as the other party.”

Those fearing for their safety from sexual partners whom they had never lived with were left unprotected by this definition. Toxic or dangerous relationships know no boundaries, including the walls of a home. If a relationship or past relationship causes a person to fear for their safety, they should be able to protect themselves and their loved ones from those who pose a risk to their well-being.

Domestic “cohabitant” redefined

Following the death of Rackley and son, Utah lawmakers finally saw the need to adjust the definition of cohabitant. SB027 which was put into effect May 8th added another definition to the definitions of cohabitant. It now states a cohabitant also includes a person who:

(g) “is or was in a consensual sexual relationship with the other party.”

While a seemingly small adjustment, this expanded definition of cohabitant may save another individual from a similar fate as Rackley and her son. This bill also:

• “modifie[d] definition of ‘crime victim’ as it related to dating violence;
• Addresse[d] violation of specified protective orders;. . .
• Amends provisions for forms of petitions and protective orders;
• Addresse[d] duties of law enforcement officers;
• Addresse[d] when and how a court may act ex parte;”
• And other technical changes as well.

Help for domestic violence victims

Although the state of Utah’s laws protecting domestic violence victims were lacking, lawmakers made adjustments as soon as they saw the need. Sometimes these changes are made too late. Victims of domestic violence are encouraged to do everything in their power to stay safe, and for others around them to watch for signs of domestic violence and to help however possible to ensure the safety of their family and friends. For more information on the signs of domestic violence or tips and planning to stay safe, contact Utah Domestic Violence Coalition at 801-521-5544.