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Utah Drug Crime Attorney * After Hours * Salt Lake City Criminal Defense


Drug Possession in Utah

Illegal drug possession is one of the most common charges in Utah criminal courts. State law gives strict penalties for convictions. Because of the high number of cases and the serious consequences involved, prosecutors work hard to push through drug cases as fast as possible.

If you have been charged with drug possession, this will sometimes work in your favor, and will sometimes work against you. It can work in your favor because you and your drug possession attorney can take the time to really get to know the case and come in to court prepared, in a position of strength. It can work against you because even if you are innocent, the prosecutor and the judge will often see you as “just another user” and you will get pushed through the system along with everybody else.

Drug Possession Defense Law

Utah law states that it is illegal for a person to “knowingly and intentionally” possess any “controlled substance” unless it is through a lawful medical prescription.

The law defines many different types of controlled substances and categorizes them into different categories according to how dangerous a drug is perceived to be, how addictive the substance is, and if the drug has any proven medical use. The categories range from Roman numerals I to V, with I being the most severe. Schedule I includes drugs like Ecstacy (MDMA), and heroin. The next category is schedule II, which includes drugs like cocaine, meth, (methamphetamine), and many prescription drugs. Schedule III includes steroids and schedule IV includes codeine and opium. (Strangely, marijuana is classified as a schedule I drug, but it is treated differently than other schedule I drugs by Utah criminal law.)

Utah law also says that drug possession can also include what is called “constructive possession,” which usually happens when a person has an illegal substance in a car or home, and other people in the car or home know about it and do not specifically disclaim it. In these cases, a person can be found guilty even though he/she never bought, used, or actually possessed the drug.

Drug Possession Penalties

There are two types of penalties that come with drug possession convictions—criminal penalties and “collateral consequences.” Criminal penalties are the penalties given by the judge as punishment for the crime. Collateral consequences are consequences that result from the conviction going onto your criminal record.

Criminal penalties can include:

  • Jail or prison time
  • Fines
  • Community service
  • Probation
  • Drug testing
  • Drug treatment

Collateral consequences can include:

  • Losing your job or not getting a job or promotion because of a background check showing a criminal conviction on your record
  • Driver’s license suspension or revocation
  • Loss of student financial aid
  • Loss of reputation or community responsibilities
  • Loss of hunting license and right to own a gun
  • Loss of ability to volunteer at certain non-profit agencies

Regular drug testing and treatment are almost always required for drug possession convictions. The judge will decide to impose jail time, fines, or community service depending on many things, including:

  • Whether it is a misdemeanor or a felony
  • Whether the person has other charges on his/her criminal history
  • Whether some of the current charges have been dropped or reduced
  • Whether the person has a remorseful or defiant attitude
  • Other factors that make the charges more or less serious (aggravating & mitigating factors)

Typically, the judge will not impose the full criminal penalty unless you have an extensive criminal history or the crime was very serious. Also, if you are represented by an attorney, they may be able to reduce the charges even before you are sentenced by the judge.  They may also be able to convince the judge to reduce the penalties because of the circumstances of your particular case.

Criminal Defense Strategies

To be successful, you will need to develop the best approach to negotiate with the prosecutor and persuade the judge to treat your case differently. If the prosecutor will not negotiate, then you will need to skillfully fight the case to show the case against you is weak.

If you have been charged with drug possession, it is important to research the specific language of the law and find out all of the evidence the government has against you in order to know if the case against you is strong or weak. If the criminal case against you is strong, it may be best for you to negotiate. If the case against you is weak, you may want to fight the charges, or at least fight the charges long enough to get a deal that is as good as possible.