Do I Need a Lawyer?

By: Kyler Ovard and Greg Smith

The Utah Criminal Justice System can seem to be very unforgiving. Individuals who are involved in the system may think that if they get charged for a crime they should take responsibility and plead guilty. In Utah, many people are raised with strong religious values, and some of them may see this as a form of “repentance.” In theory, this approach does not seem like a bad one to take, after all, isn’t accepting responsibility a good thing? And don’t you just want to “get the matter over with”?

However, the system may never forgive the person for doing that, and instead of being “done with the matter”, the defendant may then be married to it, which can make the approach of I-am-just-going-to-plead-guilty-cause-I-did-it very dangerous. After all, whey should an honest person, who wants to do the right thing, have long term consequences just because of his or her integrity?

A criminal record can have drastic consequences. One may lose their driving privileges, job, voting rights, right to possess a firearm, travel, education opportunities, and even family members and friends. And, the conviction may always be “on the record” haunting the individual, even though the individual has changed their life.

Often we get asked, “Do I really need a lawyer?” The answer is almost always “yes”, but not just any lawyer. You need one that is very experienced in criminal law. Defending yourself may seem wise, and it is tempting to save some money, but that could be like your lawyer showing up at your job, with no experience, and trying to do your job. Most of our clients laugh when we run that scenario by them. It is a simple matter of knowledge and training. If you don’t know what you are doing, disasters can happen – especially when law is spoken in English, French, Greek and Latin.

If you take some sort of a deal, or get convicted, the Utah Code does allow for some forgiveness. If an individual meets the qualifications of Utah Code § 77-40-105, they may expunge their criminal record, or in other words, erase it. To qualify, the code requires that they were not convicted of certain crimes, and that their convictions do not exceed a certain number. The code section states:

77-40-105. Eligibility for expungement of conviction — Requirements.

(1) A person convicted of a crime may apply to the bureau for a certificate of eligibility to expunge the record of conviction as provided in this section.

(2) A petitioner is not eligible to receive a certificate of eligibility from the bureau if:

(a) the conviction for which expungement is sought is:

(i) a capital felony;

(ii) a first degree felony;

(iii) a violent felony as defined in Subsection 76-3-203.5(1)(c)(i);

(iv) automobile homicide;

(v) a felony violation of Subsection 41-6a-501(2); or

(vi) a registerable sex offense as defined in Subsection 77-27-21.5(1)(n);

(b) a criminal proceeding is pending against the petitioner; or

(c) the petitioner intentionally or knowingly provides false or misleading information on the application for a certificate of eligibility.

(3) A petitioner seeking to obtain expungement for a criminal record is not eligible to receive a certificate of eligibility from the bureau until all of the following have occurred:

(a) all fines and interest ordered by the court have been paid in full;

(b) all restitution ordered by the court pursuant to Section 77-38a-302, or by the Board of Pardons and Parole pursuant to Section 77-27-6, has been paid in full; and

(c) the following time periods have elapsed from the date the petitioner was convicted or released from incarceration, parole, or probation, whichever occurred last, for each conviction the petitioner seeks to expunge:

(i) 10 years in the case of a misdemeanor conviction of Subsection 41-6a-501(2) or a felony violation of Subsection 58-37-8(2)(g);

(ii) seven years in the case of a felony;

(iii) five years in the case of a class A misdemeanor;

(iv) four years in the case of a class B misdemeanor; or

(v) three years in the case of any other misdemeanor or infraction.

(4) The bureau may not issue a certificate of eligibility if, at the time the petitioner seeks a certificate of eligibility, the bureau determines that the petitioner’s criminal history, including previously expunged convictions, contains any of the following:

(a) two or more felony convictions, each of which is contained in a separate criminal episode;

(b) any combination of three or more convictions that include two class A misdemeanor convictions, each of which is contained in a separate criminal episode;

(c) any combination of four or more convictions that include three class B misdemeanor convictions, each of which is contained in a separate criminal episode; or

(d) five or more convictions of any degree whether misdemeanor or felony, excluding infractions, each of which is contained in a separate criminal episode.

(5) If the petitioner has received a pardon from the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, the petitioner is entitled to a certificate of eligibility for all pardoned crimes.

Notice, that even if a certain conviction qualifies, if an individual has a total number of convictions that exceeds the maximum limits they cannot receive an expungement. This is one reason why pleading guilty can be so dangerous.

As previously stated, the Utah Criminal Justice System does allow for some forgiveness, but to ensure that you are eligible for forgiveness it is so important that you contact a competent attorney to help you navigate a complex justice system to ensure that all legal remedies will be available to you.

Don’t rely on expungement, make sure you fight from the start. Your attorney is a professional whose job it is to get you the very best result.

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