When is a Utah criminal sentence excessive?

While it can and does happen it is rare for a criminal defendant in Utah to receive the maximum sentence for a crime.

Many crimes have the potential to carry lengthy sentences, but defendants routinely receive smaller sentences as a result of plea bargains and judicial discretion and equity.

Felony :  A felony is a major crime which can be punished with imprisonment and/or a fine. There are four categories of felonies.

            Capital Offense: Aggravated murder.

            First Degree: Murder, rape, child kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery or arson, and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances near a school.

             Second Degree: Manslaughter, robbery, residential burglary, kidnapping, perjury, auto theft, forgery of checks $5,000 or more, theft of property $5,000 or more, forcible sexual abuse, and intentional child abuse.

              Third Degree: Burglary of non-dwelling, theft more than $1,000 but less than $5,000, aggravated assault, forgery of checks more than $1,000 but under $5,000, third DUI in 10 years, joyriding (for more than 24 hours), possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and possession of other controlled substances, and false or forged prescriptions.

Degree Possible Prison Term Possible Fine
Capital Life in prison, life in prison without parole, or death  
First Degree Five years to life in prison Up to $10,000
Second Degree One to 15 years in prison Up to $10,000
Third Degree Zero to five years in prison Up to $5,000

See Utah Code §76-3-203 and §76-3-301

Misdemeanors:  A misdemeanor is an offense lower than a felony which can be punished with a county jail term of up to one year and/or a fine. Many city and county ordinances and some state laws are misdemeanors. There are three categories of misdemeanors.

  • Class A:Negligent homicide, DUI with injury, theft, assault on a police officer, criminal mischief, and possession of marijuana (more than one ounce, less than 16 ounces).
  • Class B:Assault, resisting arrest, DUI, reckless driving, possession of marijuana under one ounce, possession of drug paraphernalia, shoplifting (under $300), trespass of a dwelling, public nuisance, concealed weapon, and many traffic offenses.
  • Class C:Public intoxication, no valid license, and driving on a suspended license.
Class Possible Jail Term Possible Fine
Class A Up to one year in jail Up to $2,500
Class B Up to six months in jail Up to $1,000
Class C Up to 90 days in jail Up to $750

See Utah Code §76-3-204 and §76-3-301

Infraction:  An infraction is a minor offense punishable by a fine only, up to $750. Examples include city traffic violations and some disorderly conduct offenses.

When multiple crimes are involved, it is possible for sentences to run at the same time (concurrently) or after each other (consecutively.) This means that it is possible for a defendant to spend a total of five years in prison for 3 five-year convictions, or a total of 15 years in prison for the same convictions.

The judge determines the sentence of a person convicted of a crime using the Utah Sentence and Release Guidelines. These are published as Appendix D of the Utah Court Rules Annotated and available on the Utah Sentencing Commission’s website (

Aggravating factors

Things that can make the punishment more severe, include but not limited to:

  • whether the victim suffered substantial bodily injury;
  • whether the offense was extremely cruel or depraved;
  • whether the offender was in a position of authority over the victim;
  • whether the victim was unusually vulnerable.

A penalty can also be enhanced if:

  • the person committed the crime with two or more other people;
  • the person used a dangerous weapon on or near a school;
  • the person committed the crime in the presence of a child;
  • the person is determined to have committed a hate crime;
  • the person is determined to be a habitual offender;
  • the offense was committed while in prison.

Mitigating factors

Things that can make the punishment less severe, including:

  • whether the offender was exceptionally cooperative with law enforcement;
  • is a good candidate for treatment;
  • has developmental disabilities.

A trial court’s sentence can be reversed on appeal if a defendant shows that the trial court judge failed to consider all legally relevant factors in imposing a sentence or if the sentence is “clearly excessive.”  It should be noted that it is difficult to prove that a sentence is “clearly excessive” because this means that no reasonable person would have adopted the view of the trial court.

The law office of Stevens & Gailey handles criminal cases, including appeals, throughout Utah. If you or a loved one is under investigation or has been charged with a crime,contact us immediately for your free consultation.

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