Being charged with a crime is a very serious matter, but it is also a very confusing one. The legal terminology is complicated and the judicial system is a maze of different levels of crimes, judges, and punishments. If you have been charged with a crime, you can choose to represent yourself, but if you really want to be free of the charges that have been leveled against you, you will need an aggressive Utah lawyer who knows the laws and the terminology to fight for you successfully.
There are two different types of courts in Utah, and across the U.S. – these are the justice and district courts, and they are very different things. Justice courts are set up in almost every city in Utah, by the city itself, and they often seem to be run for the profit of the city they work for. Justice court judges, strangely enough, are not even required to have a law degree to be a judge. They are given what is labeled as extensive training, and they are required to continue their judicial education by attending thirty hours of classes every year in order to retain their certification.
Utah Justice Court Explained
Justice court judges are only capable of hearing cases that deal with class B and C misdemeanors, infractions, and other small claims or violations that happen within the area of their jurisdiction. Class B and C misdemeanors include, but are not limited to, such offenses as public intoxication, assault, DUI, shoplifting (at loss of property under $300), and traffic offenses, like driving without a license. The penalties that can be declared for these crimes are fines up to $1,000, and jail terms of up to six months.
You should be aware that if your case is headed toward a trial in a justice court, you have the right to have your case heard in the district court instead. The district court is the general trial court for the state of Utah, and this is where most court cases are heard. The district court has the authority to officiate on all civil cases, criminal felonies, and domestic relations cases – in other words, just about everything.
Civil cases are those where the victim of some sort of injury (usually physical, but people can and usually do sue for a combination of physical, emotional and mental damages) brings a lawsuit demanding money from those whom the victim sees as the responsible and reprehensible party. Civil cases are monetary in nature and demand a repayment for the damages suffered by the victim. Civil cases do not have anything to do with guilt or innocence in a criminal sense, though they can be brought against someone involved in a criminal case, even if said person was found innocent. Civil cases simply determine whether a person was responsible enough for the injuries caused the victim that they should be required to pay reparations for the injuries suffered.
Criminal felony cases are much more serious than misdemeanor ones, though the district court does handle class A misdemeanors on a regular basis. Class A misdemeanors include such charges as negligent homicide and assault on a police officer, etc., and they can be punished by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Felonies, like misdemeanors, are also classified into different degrees of seriousness, and they are capital, first degree, second degree and third degree, with third degree being the least serious of the bunch.
A capital felony only has one offense, and that is aggravated murder. This is punishable by life in prison, life in prison without parole, or the death penalty. First degree felonies include, but are not limited to, murder, rape and child kidnapping, and sentencing is five years to life in prison, plus up to $10,000 in fines. Second degree felonies include, but are not limited to, manslaughter, robbery, kidnapping and auto theft, and sentences can be one to fifteen years in prison, with fines up to $10,000. Third degree felonies include, but are not limited to, possession of controlled substances, forged or false prescriptions, and aggravated assault, with sentences of zero to five years in prison, and fines up to $5,000.
Domestic relations cases are those involving the subdivision of family law, and they include such things as divorce, child custody, visitation, paternity, alimony, etc.