Typical Stages of a Criminal Case in Utah Justice Courts
This guide lists and provides a summary of each stage and hearing in a typical case filed in justice court in Utah. This guide is meant for general information purposes. Every case is different and may vary from the procedures outlined below.
Citation or ArrestYou are arrested or receive a citation from law enforcement. If it is a minor traffic offense, the officer will usually submit the citation directly to the Court and a case is initiated automatically. In more serious offenses, the office refers the case to the prosecutor’s office responsible for that jurisdiction. A prosecutor screens the case and can file charges with Court.
ArraignmentTypically, this is your first appearance in court. These are often big calendars with multiple defendants set for the same day. The prosecutor may speak with you before you see the judge and make you an offer. If you have an attorney, they can negotiate with the prosecutor.
You generally have two options, take a plea deal offered by the prosecutor and resolve the case, or enter a "not guilty" plea and fight the case. You can ask the court at this hearing for court-appointed counsel.
Pretrial ConferenceYou come back to court and often see your assigned judge. This is often the first time you will meet with court-appointed counsel. This is another chance for you or your attorney to negotiate with the prosecutor. You can take a deal and resolve the case, or you or your attorney can set another court hearing to consider plea offers, gather more information, or set motion hearings or trial.
Motion Hearing (if applicable)May or may not happen, depending on the case. Typically, motion hearings are set to address any suppression or pretrial issues. You or your attorney can file various types of legal motions with the court challenging aspects of the case, as the facts and circumstances allow.
Having an attorney is helpful at this stage. They can evaluate your case, determine if any motions are appropriate, draft legal briefs on those issues, and argue the motion to the court.
TrialA trial is your day in court to make the prosecutor prove beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against you. If you are charged with a misdemeanor, you are entitled to a jury trial with a 4 person jury. If you are charged only with infractions, you are entitled to a bench trial before the judge.
You or your attorney may participate in jury selection, make an opening statement, examine witnesses, present evidence, and make a closing argument. It is very advisable to pick an experienced attorney who has handled jury trials.
After hearing all the evidence, the judge or jury will render a verdict. If you are found not guilty, the case is dismissed. If you are found guilty, the judge will sentence you.
SentencingYou always have the right to be sentenced in not less than two nor more than 45 days after the verdict or plea. You can waive this time period and be sentenced whenever you enter a plea or are found guilty. At sentencing, the judge determines what punishment to impose for the conviction. This could be anywhere from a fine or community service to jail time, depending on the offense.