If you have been charged with a felony offense, contact an experienced Riverton Utah criminal defense lawyer.
For felony cases, a judicial screening decision is made within a week or two of the initial appearance. Unlike the exparte review at the complaint stage, this screening involves an adversarial process where the prosecution presents witnesses and the defendant, now represented by counsel, may cross-examine. The defendant may present his or her own evidence but in practice rarely does so, preferring instead to learn as much as possible about the prosecution’s case without divulging his or her own defense. The magistrate may dismiss the charges or may allow only a lesser charge than that alleged in the complaint.
Grand Jury Indictment and Prosecutorial Information
Another screening stage for felonies is grand jury review to determine whether an indictment should be returned against a defendant. The federal system and about half the states give felony defendants a right to grand jury review. A grand jury is made up of citizens who are called to meet regularly to review cases during a set term of perhaps several months. The traditional size is twenty-three people, of whom a majority of twelve must agree in order to indict a defendant. This majority corresponds to the standard size of a trial jury. The grand jury review procedure is significantly different from trial and from the preliminary hearing; it is in fact more akin to a magistrate’s review of a complaint. Only the prosecution presents witnesses; the hearing is held in secret; and the defendant has no right to be present.
If the defendant is indicted by the grand jury, the indictment substitutes for the complaint as the formal charging document. The defendant is arraigned in the general trial court on this document and is asked to plead guilty, not guilty, or, where permitted, nolo contendere. A date is then set to hear pretrial and trial matters.
From the point of filing the complaint, and sometimes before, until trial, the defense counsel and prosecutor may engage in plea negotiations. This may involve either an agreement to dismiss some charges if the defendant will plead guilty to others or, in some jurisdictions, a promise of a lenient sentence or a recommendation for one in exchange for a plea of guilty. Challenges to the institution of the prosecution (such as challenging the makeup of the grand jury) or the sufficiency of the charging instrument, as well as requests for discovery and motions to suppress evidence, typically are made before trial. These motions may produce a dismissal for a defendant without the need for a plea bargain.
After a defendant has been arrested and charged with a crime, if there has not been a dismissal (on a pretrial motion) and the defendant has not entered a guilty plea, the case goes to trial. Several features distinguish the American criminal system from the civil system. These include (1) the presumption of a defendant’s innocence, (2) the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, (3) the right of the defendant not to take the stand, (4) the exclusion of evidence obtained by the state in an illegal manner, and (5) the more frequent use of incriminating statements of defendants as evidence. Hire the services of an experienced Utah criminal defense lawyer to represent you in a felony trial.
An American trial uses an adversarial process. The defendant is represented by an advocate representing his or her position, while the state’s prosecutors represent the state’s interest in punishing offenders. The sides argue in front of an impartial decision maker. In all fifty-two jurisdictions the defendant has a right to a jury trial for all felony offenses and for misdemeanors punishable by more than six months’ imprisonment.
If a defendant is convicted at trial or pleads guilty before a trial takes place, the court will set a date for a sentencing hearing at which both sides will present evidence relating to the appropriate sentence. While a few jurisdictions allow for sentencing by a jury in noncapital cases, most assign the sentence determination to the court. Typically, three different types of sanctions can be used: financial sanctions (e.g., fines, restitution orders); some form of release into the community (e.g., probation, unsupervised release, house arrest, drug rehabilitation); and incarceration in a jail (for lesser sentences) or a prison (for longer sentences). The most severe form of punishment is the death penalty, the availability of which is determined by each individual state. The legislature typically sets the maximum penalty available for an offense. It sometimes also narrows the sentencing options for an offense by excluding community release or by setting a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment. Increasingly, court sentencing decisions are restricted by guidelines that suggest a guideline sentence for offenders of a particular sort committing offenses of a particular sort. Some guideline systems are more binding than others.
A defendant generally has a right to appeal a conviction to the next higher court in the particular system’s judicial hierarchy. For misdemeanors tried in a magistrate court, this may mean a new trial in the general trial court. The right to appeal is not necessarily limited to those convicted at trial, however; a defendant who pleads guilty but who receives a more severe sentence than he or she expected, for example, may be able to appeal, challenging his or her plea. Appellate review of the appropriateness of the sentence is generally not permitted, although review of a deviation from sentencing guidelines may be. The most common objections on appeal concern admission of evidence claimed to be improperly obtained (generally the most successful claim), insufficient evidence to support the conviction, incompetent counsel, improper identification procedures, and improper admission of a defendant’s confession or incriminating statements.
After exhausting possibilities for appellate review, a convict who has not gained release may seek relief through postconviction remedies, sometimes called collateral attacks on conviction. Sometimes this is done through the writ of habeas corpus, but it is commonly governed by a more modern statutory procedure. After exhausting postconviction remedies in state court, state prisoners who have a constitutional claim may present the same claim for review by the federal courts under federal postconviction remedy procedures. In both state and federal systems the process of appellate review of a denial of a postconviction petition follows the same appellate course that the direct appeal did.
Offense definitions are typically made up of three kinds of objective elements— conduct, circumstance, and result elements— each accompanied by a corresponding culpability requirement of purpose, knowledge, recklessness, or negligence. Some doctrines will allow a defendant to be treated as if he or she satisfies a required element that is not in fact present, if the defendant does satisfy the requirements of a doctrine of imputation. For example, a defendant may be liable for an offense that requires conduct that the defendant did not commit if the conduct, performed by another person, is imputed to the defendant by the complicity doctrine. Finally, a defendant who is apprehended or stops before completing an offense may be held liable for an inchoate offense on the basis of his or her intention to commit or encourage conduct toward the commission.
Objective Offense Requirements
Offense definitions consist of two kinds of elements: objective elements (conduct, circumstance, or result elements) and culpability elements (typically purpose, knowledge, recklessness, or negligence). Each objective offense element has a corresponding culpability element, and the culpability level may be different with respect to different objective elements of the same offense.
Each offense definition typically has at least one conduct element, which satisfies the act requirement inherent in all criminal offenses. Most offense definitions include one or more circumstance elements as well, defining the precise nature of the prohibited conduct (e.g., having intercourse with a person under fourteen years old) or the characteristic of a prohibited result (e.g., causing the death of another human being). A minority of offenses contain a result element. Homicide offenses, personal injury offenses, and property destruction offenses are examples of this minority of offenses; they require a resulting physical harm in order to sustain a conviction for the offense. Other offenses, such as endangerment, indecent exposure, and falsification, may require the person to cause a risk of harm or to cause an intangible harm, such as alarm or a false impression.
Whenever an offense definition includes a result element (e.g., homicide requires a death), a causation requirement also is implied. That is, it must be shown that the person’s conduct caused the prohibited result. This required relation between the defendant’s conduct and the result derives from American notions of causal accountability. The rules of the causation doctrine are the means by which the law attempts to define the conditions under which such causal accountability exists.
Requirements of Causation
Establishing a causal connection between a defendant’s conduct and a result typically has two in de pen dent requirements. First, the conduct must be a “but-for” cause of the result. This is sometimes called the factual cause requirement. Second, the strength and nature of the causal connection between the conduct and the result must be sufficient. Legal cause, or proximate cause, as this is sometimes called, requires that the resulting harm be “not too remote or accidental in its occurrence to have a just bearing on the actor’s liability or on the gravity of his offense.”
Conduct is a factual (but-for) cause of a result if the result would not have occurred but for the conduct. In other words, the conduct is a factual cause if it was necessary for the result to occur. The factual cause inquiry is essentially a scientific and hypothetical one. It asks what the world would have been like had the defendant not performed his or her conduct. Specifically, would the result still have occurred when it did? If the answer is no, then the defendant’s conduct was necessary for, and thus was a but-for cause of, the result.
Proximate or Legal Cause
In contrast to the scientific inquiry of the factual cause requirement, the proximate (legal) cause requirement presents essentially a normative inquiry. Deciding whether a result is “too remote or accidental in its occurrence” or “too dependent on another’s volitional act” obviously calls for an exercise of intuitive judgment. The inquiry cannot be resolved by examining the facts more closely or having scientific experts analyze the situation. Ultimately, the decision maker must determine how much remoteness is “too remote” or how much dependence on another’s volitional act is “too dependent” for the result to have a just bearing on the defendant’s liability. Typically the foreseeability of the result following from the defendant’s conduct is a highly influential factor in a determination of proximate cause.
Offense Culpability Requirements
A defendant’s conduct may be harmful; the victim may have a claim in tort; and fairness and utility both may suggest that the defendant rather than the victim should bear the loss for the injury. But without culpability in the defendant, causing the injury may be seen as lacking sufficient blameworthiness to deserve the condemnation and reprobation of criminal conviction.
In place of the plethora of common-law terms—wantonly, heedlessly, maliciously, and so on— the criminal law defines four levels of culpability: purposely, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently. Ideally, all offenses are defined by designating one of these four levels of culpability with regard to each objective element. If the objective elements of an offense require that a person take the property of another, the culpability elements might require, for example, that the person know that he or she is taking property and that he or she be at least reckless about it being someone else’s property. An offense also may require culpability with regard to a circumstance or result beyond what the objective elements of the offense
If you have been charged with a crime, contact an experienced Riverton Utah criminal defense lawyer immediately. Your liberty is at stake.
Riverton Utah Criminal Defense Attorney Free Consultation
When you need help defending against criminal charges in Riverton Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We want to help you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506