A criminal case usually begins with a law enforcement officer either arresting you or issuing a citation. A prosecutor (attorney for the State or City) then decides whether to file charges against you.
Criminal charges can only be brought by a prosecutor, who represents the State, County, or City. A prosecutor is a public official. In all cases, defendants have a right to be represented by an attorney.
1) Felonies: These are the most serious crimes, divided into three degrees: 1st through 3rd degree, with 1st degree being the most serious (excepting capital felonies which are punishable by death). Felonies are punishable by fines and prison. Felonies are prosecuted by the State of Utah Attorney General’s Office or the District Attorney for the County the offense occurred in.
2) Misdemeanors: These are less serious crimes, divided into three classes: Class C through Class A, with Class A being the most serious. Misdemeanors are punishable by fines and jail. Misdemeanors are prosecuted by the City Prosecutor for the city they occur in or the District Attorney for the county if no City Prosecutor represents that jurisdiction.
3) Infractions: Infractions are violations of the law that are not technically a “crime.” Infractions are only punishable by fine. Infractions are prosecuted by the City Prosecutor for the city they occur in or the District Attorney for the county if no City Prosecutor represents that jurisdiction.
For Utah State cases, criminal offenses can be heard in two different types of courts, a Justice Court or a District Court.
Justice Court: A Justice Court can handle offenses from Infractions to Class B Misdemeanors (as well as civil small claims actions). Cases heard in justice court can be heard in District Court from the start again. This type of review is called de novo.
District Court: The District Court hears cases from Class A Misdemeanors to Felonies, as well as the review of justice court cases or all cases if a jurisdiction does not have a justice court. District Court judges are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Utah Senate. District Court cases can only be reviewed by the Utah Court of Appeals and the Utah Supreme Court.
If you have been charged with a crime in justice or district court, please contact our office to discuss your options.