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Utah Criminal Lawyer - District Courts and Justice Courts

Utah's district courts have general jurisdiction over both felony and misdemeanor criminal charges. Justice courts in Utah are restricted to hearing only class B misdemeanor or lower level criminal charges. In any criminal case, the consequences can be serious. Having an experienced criminal lawyer on your side is important. Based in Salt Lake City, criminal defense lawyer Stephen Howard provides defense services to clients throughout Utah. Contact us today to arrange for an initial consultation.

Jurisdiction for District Courts and Justice Courts in Utah

Whether a Utah criminal case is heard in the district court or justice court is determined both by the level of the offense and also by the geographical jurisdiction of the court.

Utah district courts have exclusive jurisdiction over felony cases and class A misdemeanor cases. If you are facing prosecution for a felony charge or class A misdemeanor, your case will be heard by a district court judge in the county in which the offense occurred.

If you are facing criminal charges for a class B or class C misdemeanor, or an infraction, your case will typically be heard in the justice court with geographic jurisdiction over the area where the offense is alleged to have occurred. These cases can include charges as serious as DUI or domestic violence as well as traffic matters including registration or no insurance charges. There are some locations in Utah where no justice court has geographic jurisdiction to hear the case. In such circumstances, these misdemeanor cases can be heard in the district court.

While many Utah cities and counties have set up justice courts to handle lower-level charges that occur within their borders. Some cities have made arrangements to have these lower level charges heard in neighboring justice courts. (For example, criminal cases from Cottonwood Heights are heard in the Holladay Justice Court.)

Consequences for Convictions in Utah

Utah Justice Courts - Although justice courts only deal with lower-level offenses, the penalties handed out by justice courts in Utah can still be severe. A single class B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days jail. Sentences for multiple counts can be run consecutively (back-to-back), and thus result in a year or more in jail. Collateral consequences of a conviction in a justice court can also include driver license suspensions, losing the right to carry a firearm, and more.

Utah District Courts - Penalties for felony convictions in Utah's district courts can be severe. First degree felony charges carry the potential for up to life in prison. District courts also have jurisdiction to impose the death penalty in capital cases. But, of course, not all felony cases involve such serious consequences. Some cases require mandatory prison sentences. But most felony convictions carry the potential for probation. Many felony cases can be reduced to misdemeanor charges through plea negotiations.  Some felony cases can even result in a plea in abeyance agreement. Utah's district courts can impose jail time as a sentence in a misdemeanor case or as a condition of probation for a felony conviction.

Criminal Appeals from Justice Courts and District Courts in Utah

District Court Appeals in Utah - A district court is considered a "court of record." As a result, if you choose to appeal your case, the appeal will be heard by either the Utah Court of Appeals or the Utah Supreme Court. These appeals require complex legal analysis and review of the record in the trial court to determine whether any reversible error exists.

Justice Court Appeals in Utah - Since Utah justice courts are not "courts of record," an appeal from a justice court is heard in the district court. In a justice court appeal, the district court has to make a fresh determination of the issue that is being appealed, without reference to what occurred in the justice court.

Appeals from justice courts in Utah are in the form of a "de novo" proceeding (meaning "anew" or "from the beginning"). For example, if a person is convicted at trial in a justice court and appeals, the district court will grant a trial "de novo" (meaning that an entirely new trial must be conducted in the case).

Finding a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Utah

Whether your case involves "minor" misdemeanor charges in a justice court or more serious felonies in district court, you should have an experienced Utah criminal defense attorney on your side. Stephen Howard's has record of achieving real results for his clients.

Based in Salt Lake City, criminal defense lawyer Stephen Howard offers legal services to clients in all of Utah. Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation.


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  • Criminal Defense AttorneyDismissed - Charges of insurance fraud were brought when investigators found reason to believe that client's claim of injury was fraudulent. Client was seen kicking a soccer ball, and investigators concluded that the injury claim was false. By obtaining medical records and other administrative records, and by pointing out to the prosecutor that the alleged injury interferred with the client's ability to lift - not his ability to kick a ball - the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the case.
  • Criminal Appeals Defense AttorneyDismissed on Appeal - DUI case was dismissed after a successful appeal where the Utah Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's denial of the defense motion to suppress. Without the suppressed evidence, the prosecutor acknowledged that they did not have sufficient evidence to proceed to trial and the case was dismissed.
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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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