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First-Time Offenders - Utah Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a crime in Utah for the first time, you likely have a lot of questions. This web page is intended to provide general information on common mistakes made by people charged with a crime in Utah. But no website can replace personal advice from an experienced criminal attorney. As a Utah criminal defense attorney based in Salt Lake City, Stephen Howard has achieved dismissals, not guilty verdicts, and reversals on appeal in a wide variety of felony and misdemeanor cases. He has negotiated dismissals or pleas in abeyance for first-time offender facing charges from the first degree felony level to lower level misdemeanors. His experience is substantial, with a record of achieving real results for his clients. Contact us now to arrange for an initial consultation.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Utah Criminal Defense Cases

Pleading Guilty at Your First Court Hearing - You should almost never enter a guilty plea at your first court hearing (an arraignment in a misdemeanor case). By pleading guilty immediately, you give up many rights and opportunities that could have led to a better outcome. You lose the chance to negotiate for a better resolution. You lose the possibility of a plea in abeyance. You lose the opportunity to have an attorney review discovery, police reports, or other investigative materials to determine what defenses may be available to you. And you give up a number of very important constitutional rights. Once you plead guilty, the chief question left for the court is how to punish you. And if you plead guilty without an attorney, you lose the opportunity to have an experienced defense attorney speak on your behalf to obtain a reduced sentence.

Not Hiring an Attorney - A person charged with a misdemeanor offense may think that the crime is not serious and that it is not worth the cost of hiring attorney. For some very minor offenses (for example, a first-time speeding ticket), this may be true. But all misdemeanor charges in Utah carry potential jail time. And many misdemeanors carry potential collateral consequences such as losing your driver license, losing your right to carry a firearm, or making it impossible to find a good job. In some cases, the costs of hiring an attorney may actually be less than the penalties you are able to avoid by successfully defending your case. Your attorney may be able to point out legal defenses that sometimes even the prosecutor is not aware of. In some cases, such a defense may completely clear you of the charge. In other cases, an experienced defense attorney may help you obtain a better negotiated resolution.

Talking to Police without an Attorney - Police are required to read your Miranda Rights before conducting any custodial interrogations. But even if you are not "in custody," you still have the right to have the advice of a criminal defense attorney and to have your attorney present during any questioning by police. In many cases, statements made to police by a suspect during an investigation turn out to be some of the most damaging evidence in the case. But in some cases, it can be vital to give the police information that may be beneficial to you. Without the advice of an experienced criminal lawyer, you may not know whether your statements to police are going to help or hurt your case. If you have not consulted with an attorney, the safest advice is to tell police that you will not talk to them without first obtaining the advice of an attorney.

Consenting to a Police Search - If a police officer asks for permission to search your car, your home, your person, or any other place or thing under your control, you are under no obligation to say yes. Police officers will sometimes suggest that they are going to conduct the search regardless of whether you consent to the search; or police may state that if you do not consent that they will get a warrant and conduct the search anyway. Police sometimes have an independent basis for being able to conduct their search. But sometimes, these kinds of threats are made to get you to consent to the search that would otherwise be constitutional. If police obtain valid consent from you before searching, you will lose the ability to challenge the constitutionality of their actions under Fourth Amendment.

Being Disrespectful or Rude to a Police Officer - While you do not have to consent to a police search or consent to be questioned by police without an attorney, it is generally a bad idea to behave rudely to a police officer. Even if you disagree with what the officer is doing, you should try to find a polite way to make your position known. Showing respect to a police officer will often result in the officer treating you better, and may result in more lenient treatment from the prosecutor once the case gets to court.

Resisting Arrest - Being arrested for the first time can be a confusing and frightening experience. Even if you believe that you are being wrongfully arrested, the place to challenge the arrest is in the courtroom - not on the street. Resisting arrest can result in additional criminal charges and may give a prosecutor a reason to prosecute the underlying charges more aggressively. Police officers do sometimes make mistakes. Exercising your constitutional rights is important. But physically resisting a police officer is usually a bad idea.

Finding a Utah Criminal Defense Lawyer in Salt Lake City

Choosing the best criminal defense lawyer for your case may be the most important decision you will make. Based in Salt Lake City, Stephen Howard provides criminal defense representation to clients throughout Utah. He has achieved results of dismissals. not guilty verdicts, and reversals on appeal in felony and misdemeanor cases including kidnapping, robbery, burglary, forgery, drugs, DUI, and many more.

Contact us today to arrange for an initial consultation with Utah criminal lawyer Stephen Howard.


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  • Utah Expungement Attorney Salt Lake Davis Expunged - Client with prior conviction for violent felony was ineligible for expungement through the courts. A successful 2-step reduction restored expungement eligibility and ultimately led to the court's decision to grant the requested expungement.
  • Utah Burglary Defense Attorney Not Guilty - Client was charged with second-degree felony residential burglary and facing potential prison time. Investigation by the defense revealed multiple witnesses, missed by police and prosecutors, who supported client's claim of innocence. At trial, the jury returned a "not guilty" verdict on all charges.
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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
340 East 400 South, Suite 25, 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

The materials in this website are intended for informational purposes only, and are not legal advice. Viewing or responding to materials in this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. Read Full Disclaimer.