Utah Misdemeanor Cases From Start to Finish

Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys


When the police arrive at your home, they are investigating potential criminal charges against you—You should remain silent and assert your right to an attorney.   

The Utah Constitution and the United States Constitution command that the police stop questioning you when you assert your right to an attorney and to remain silent.  Use it.

It is not a crime to remain silent.  It is not obstruction of justice to assert your constitutional rights.  Being rude to the police will not get you anywhere, nor will physically resisting, but remaining silent will.  You should not speak with the police until you are afforded the right to speak with an attorney.


With some Utah misdemeanor cases the police will simply cite and release you for the crime.  With other cases, you will be taken to jail, booked and then held on bail or released immediately.    


In cite and release cases where you are not formally booked into jail, your ticket will instruct you to call the court and set up an arraignment date. This generally must be done within 14 days or a bench warrant will issue for your arrest.

If you are in custody at the county jail, you will make your first court appearance before the court within 72 hours or so, depending on holidays or weekend schedules of the court.

Formal Notice of the Charges:

At the Utah arraignment, you will be formally placed on notice of the criminal charges against you.  The court will either read out loud the criminal charges against you, or they will ask if you understand the charges against you.

Right to Counsel/Lawyer:

At the arraignment, the judge will ask you if you will be retaining a private attorney, or using the services of the public defender.  Normally, the court will give you ample time to retain a private attorney to represent you in the criminal proceedings.

Plea Entry:

At the Arraignment, you will need to plead guilty, no contest, or not guilty.  The court has the ultimate discretion as to what type of plea to accept.  There are two main types of criminal pleas:

No Contest: This has the same legal effect as a guilty plea, but instead of admitting guilt, the defendant admits that the government would likely win at trial. The judge does not have to accept this type of plea.

Misdemeanor Pre-Trial Motions:

Both your defense counsel and the prosecuting attorney can file a host of pretrial motions in your Utah misdemeanor criminal charges.  Common defense pretrial motions are motions to suppress illegally obtained evidence.  There are motions to suppress illegal confessions, motions to suppress tainted evidence and motions to strike certain anticipated testimony.

Pretrial motions are generally heard in advance of trial, but can be heard on the day of trial, or during the middle of trial.

Utah Misdemeanor Pretrial Conference:

Some cases have multiple pretrial conferences, other cases only have one pretrial conference.  Any party or the court can set the matter for a pretrial conference to facilitate the resolution of the case or resolve pretrial disputes between the parties.

Plea Bargaining and Sentencing Bargaining:

Plea bargaining is an essential process of all Utah criminal cases.  Rarely is there a case where pretrial plea bargain negotiations do not take place.  Plea negotiations generally take place before trial, but can take place during the trial, or while the jury is deliberating.

Plea bargaining can include pleading guilty to a reduced criminal charge.  This reduced criminal charge could reduce a Class a Misdemeanor down to a Class B Misdemeanor.  Plea bargaining could be the dismissal of certain charges in return for pleading guilty to one or more current or reduced charges.

Plea bargaining can include sentencing stipulations from the prosecuting attorney.  Prosecutor sentencing stipulations can be agreements to a reduced fine, reduced jail, prison, or probationary terms.   Ultimately, it is the judge who decides sentencing terms, but often the judge will go along with what the defense and the prosecutor have agreed to regarding sentencing.

Again, ultimately, the judge has the power to accept or reject any plea bargain agreed to between the parties.  As a result, you can ask for the judge’s approval of the plea bargain.

The Utah Rule of Criminal Procedures reads:

“(i)(2) When a tentative plea agreement has been reached, the judge, upon request of the parties, may permit the disclosure of the tentative agreement and the reasons for it, in advance of the time for tender of the plea. The judge may then indicate to the prosecuting attorney and defense counsel whether the proposed disposition will be approved.”

A Rule 11 conference is a usual tool to give criminal defendants certainty of outcomes in their plea negotiations prior to entering the plea agreement on the record.

Trial Procedure:

The right to a jury trial can only be made by the criminal defendant.  The jury right cannot be made by the judge or by the criminal defense attorney.  The right to a jury trial is as old as American and endows the people with enforcing the laws through courtroom democracy.

Some cases are tried only to the bench, or a judge trial.  The old wisdom is that legal issues are best tried before a judge and fact issues are best tried before a jury, but there are exceptions and knowing your judge’s tendencies is huge.

Jury Selection:

Jury selection is where the judge convenes the jury pool in the courtroom and begins questioning them to ensure they are fair and impartial.  Common questions are whether anyone knows the accused, or whether any prospective juror knows the defense counsel, or the judge. In small communities, this is harder to get around.

Questions of literacy, hearing ability, vacation schedules and criminal backgrounds are discussed.  Jury selection widely varies across Utah and it depends on the judge and the judicial district you are in.

Opening Statement:

Opening statements are not evidence and opening statements are not argument.  Argument is for the closing statement, not the opening statement.  A cool, calm rendition of the facts of what you intend to prove during the trial is what the opening statement is for.

Prosecution’s Case in Chief:

The government, represented by the prosecuting attorney has the burden of proof.  Therefore, the government goes first and last in a criminal case. The defendant has no burden of proof and does not have to do anything, or present any evidence at the trial.   

The prosecution must prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.  The defense has no burden.  During the government’s case in chief, it may present witnesses or introduce real or exhibitory evidence for the jury’s consideration.   

Defense’s Case in Chief:

The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty and therefore has no burden.  The defendant has not duty to produce any witnesses or evidence in his case in chief and often will not, but they may rest their case after the close of the prosecution’s case in chief.

Prosecutor’s Rebuttal Case in Chief:

After the defense rests their case in chief, the prosecutor has a chance to present any rebuttal evidence against and directly in opposition to what was brought up by the defense during their case in chief.   The judge may allow surrebuttal (a rebuttal to the rebuttal) by the defense.

Jury Instructions:

The judge is the judge of the law and will instruct the jury on what the law is.  The jury is the KING of the facts and will tell the world what the facts were in the subject case that they are deciding.  Jury instructions are like a letter from the judge on what the law is and how the jury should apply the law to the facts to determine the jury’s verdict.

Jury instructions are critical and any objection must be properly laid or that objection to misinformed jury instructions is waived.

Closing Arguments:

Unlike opening statements, closing statement are for argument and persuasion hoping to sway the jury to your client’s side.  The time limit is in the discretion of the judge and you can only argue about evidence that was submitted into evidence during the trial.  You can’t comment on evidence that was not received by the court through exhibits or testimony.

Both sides get their chance at closing arguments, however, only the government gets a rebuttal closing argument because the government bears the ultimate burden of proof.

Jury Deliberations:

After closing arguments, the jury is excused for closing arguments.   Thereafter they will chose a jury foreperson and they will begin deliberating the guilt or innocence of the accused.


All criminal cases in the United States of America and each state must be unanimous beyond a reasonable doubt.  All juror s must agree that the person is guilty or not guilty.    There is no majority vote or 2 or 3.  All are in or there is a hung jury.


Criminal sentencing in Misdemeanor cases can occur immediately if waived by the defendant after being found guilty, or can occur at a later date.

In more serious cases, the judge may order the criminal defendant to report to Utah’s Adult Probation & Parole for a comprehensive social assessment and sentencing recommendation.

Contact the Utah criminal defense attorneys at Howard, Lewis & Petersen, PC to walk you through the process if you are charged with a misdemeanor in Utah.