If you’ve been charged with a DUI in Utah, you are facing a number of potentially significant penalties. You probably already know that Utah treats the crime of operating a vehicle while intoxicated seriously. So seriously, in fact, that Utah became the first state in the nation to lower the legal BAC limit from .08 to .05. In general, someone convicted of a DUI in Utah is looking at potential mandatory jail time or community service, a stiff fine, the suspension of driving privileges and more.
The serious nature of the penalties and the uncertainty of the outcome of your case can cause an incredible amount of stress. That’s natural. It could be tempting to simply plead guilty to the charges against you and put the entire matter behind you as quickly as possible. However, given the nature of your particular case, pleading guilty may or may not be in your best interest. To begin with, let’s look at some of the potential penalties involved in the typical DUI.
If this is your first DUI offense in the past 10 years then it’s likely that you were charged with a Class B misdemeanor. If you’re convicted, you’ll face the following fines and penalties:
- Court Imposed Fines – A first time Class B DUI conviction carries a minimum fine and fee of $1420. If the circumstances warrant, the judge has the discretion to raise the fines and fees to $1950.
- Incarceration – There is a mandatory minimum sentence of two days in jail for a first time Class B DUI conviction. If the circumstances warrant, this sentence can be increased up to 180 days. A judge may order a defendant to perform two days of community service, 48 hours, in lieu of jail time.
- Alcohol/Drug Abuse Screening and Assessment/DUI School – A judge will order a first time offender to obtain a mandatory alcohol/DUI screening and assessment and treatment, as is appropriate.
- Ignition Interlock Device – If your BAC was .16 or greater, the judge will order you to have an ignition interlock device installed on your car. You will be required to keep this device installed for a period of 18 months. If you are under 21 years of age, the interlock device will need to be installed on any car you drive for a period of three years from the date of conviction. You will pay all fees related to the device, including rental of the device, and installation of the device on any car you drive.
- Driver’s License Suspension – If you are over 19 years of age, a first time DUI conviction comes with a mandatory 120-day suspension of your driver’s license. If you are younger than 19, the suspension time is increased to one year.
- Probation – A first time DUI conviction also comes with a 12-month period of probation. This means that the court will keep your case open for one year following the date of conviction. During this time, the clerk of the court will verify that you have followed all the conditions of probation, including paying your fine, performing community service, and attending alcohol/drug education classes. If your BAC was .16 or greater, the judge will place you under supervised probation and you will be required to report to a probation officer on a monthly basis. Your probation officer can require drug testing and must be informed if you plan on changing your address or are traveling out of state.
Take note of the fact that many of these penalties are mandatory. This means that if you plead guilty, the judge is required to impose them on you. Legally, a plea of guilty is the equivalent of a conviction. You may get the same outcome as if you pled not guilty and were convicted after a trial.
However, there is a chance that you may be offered an opportunity to plead guilty to the reduced charge of Impaired Driving. A conviction for Impaired Driving carries many of the same penalties as a DUI conviction. For example, both are still Class B misdemeanors. Both carry the same fines, the same screening and treatment requirements, and the same terms of probation. However, there are several important differences that may represent a significant advantage to you:
- Impaired Driving requires no mandatory jail time or community service requirements.
- An ignition interlock device is usually not required under an Impaired Driving conviction. However, it should be noted that the installation of an interlock device is left up to the discretion of the judge or the Driver License Division handling your case. You could plead guilty to Impaired Driving and still end up having to have the device installed on your car.
- The period of time that your driver’s license will be suspended will be cut in half, from 120 days to 60 days, under an Impaired Driving conviction. In addition, there will be no suspension involved whatsoever, if your license was not originally suspended by the Driver’s License Division.
Impaired Driving in Utah is essentially a reduced form of a DUI conviction. You do not have a right to plead to a charge of Impaired Driving. That option is left to the discretion of the prosecutor and the court. Under specific circumstances, it may make sense to accept the plea offer if it is extended to your attorney.
However, remember, that every DUI case is different. There are any number of factual and evidentiary issues that can make pleading guilty inadvisable or even foolhardy. Under the wrong circumstances, a guilty plea could cost you your freedom, your financial security, your job, and more. An aggressive Utah DUI attorney can often find weaknesses in the State’s case against you and exploit those weaknesses to your advantage. Evidence against you can be ruled inadmissible, resulting in the dismissal of charges. All of this requires putting up a fight, but none of it is possible, if you decide to plead guilty without first obtaining competent legal advice.