I Didn’t Do Anything, So Why Am I In Jail?

We’ve been involved in literally thousands of cases, and trust us when we say that many people end up in jail not because of what they did, but because of what they didn’t do. Namely, they didn’t take care of their court appointments and/or their obligations to the court, so they end up in jail. Sadly, this happens routinely, and nice people end up behind bars even though they pose little or no risk to society.

When a defendant does not show up to a court date without good cause, a judge will like issue a bench warrant, and often this comes with a price tag: $5,000 in new bail money more or so. Additionally, a charge of Failure to Appear (“FTA”) may be added to the defendant’s already existing charges.

Under U.C.A. § 77-7-22: “Any person who willfully fails to appear before a court pursuant to a citation […] is guilty of a class B misdemeanor, regardless of the disposition of the charge upon which he was originally cited.” So, even if the person fails to show on a class C misdemeanor, the new charge of FTA can be more serious. So, not dotting the i’s or crossing the t’s can be very problematic. Putting a legal citation “on top of the fridge” and “forgetting about it” is not uncommon.

If a person calls the court, and is given a new court day, it is a good idea to confirm that immediately via email or by fax. Often, court clerks get very busy, and may not make the proper notation on their computer, and so when the person does not show up, a warrant gets kicked out nearly automatically.

When a defendant who has been convicted of an offense, and has incurred probation requirements imposed by the court, fails to comply with those requirements, he or she will likely face a sanction of jail time, or an increased fine, plus the embarrassment and inconvenience of having to go back to court.

But even worse than that, the court can revoke your probation, and that will make in ineligible for what we call a “402” reduction. In other words, the court has the power to lower your conviction by up to two levels if you successfully complete probation. This comes from Utah Code Annotated section 76-3-402. But, let us emphasize that the codes says this can be done after the defendant has been successfully discharged from probation.

Often a defendant will be very relieved that he is not going to jail after being held in violation of the terms of his probation. However, if the judge says, “I am going to revoke and reinstate probation, there has been a huge lost opportunity for the defendant. This can mean that the judge is putting on the record that the defendant was not successfully discharged from probation. And this could haunt the defendant. If the defendant has a third degree felony, that would mean that he may never get it down to a class A misdemeanor, and then, expungement would likely be his only option, and he may not be eligible for that either.

When an allegation of probation non-compliance arises, a defendant will receive a notice of an Order to Show Cause pursuant to U.C.A. 77-18-1(12). An Order to Show Cause requires a defendant to appear in court and either admit or deny the allegations of non-compliance. (He doesn’t say guilty or not guilty because it is not a new criminal charge).

He has to “show cause”, in other words, give the judge a very good reason, as to why his probation should not be revoked, and why he should not go to jail and pay more in fines. Many people do not hire an attorney to handle these matters, but in our opinion, they should for many reasons, some of which have already been given in this article.

Just remember, your case (and your life) will proceed a lot more smoothly if you simply show up to your scheduled court date and if you comply with the probation requirements ordered by the judge.

Don Stirling and Greg Smith from Greg Smith and Associates.

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