wooden judge hammer with drugs for Utah drug possession laws

If you have been accused of drug possession in the state of Utah, it is normal to have questions about your charges and uncertainty about the legal process, especially if it’s your first time being in legal trouble. There are several important things to know about Utah’s drug possession laws; some of the most important are discussed in this article.

Drug Schedules

All illegal drugs are classified into five different “schedules” by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). These schedules seek to define a given drug’s medical value and potential for abuse. The drug schedules include:

  • Schedule I: These are defined as drugs with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Examples include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy.
  • Schedule II: These are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse and dependence. Examples include cocaine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl.
  • Schedule III: These are defined as drugs with moderate to low potential for abuse and dependence. Examples include ketamine, codeine, and anabolic steroids.
  • Schedule IV: These are defined as drugs with low potential for abuse and dependence. Examples include Xanax, Valium, and Ambien.
  • Schedule V: These are defined as drugs with a lower potential for dependence than schedule IV drugs. Examples include antidiarrheal or painkilling drugs.

The higher drug schedules carry harsher penalties for the conviction of possession of any listed drugs when compared to the lower schedules.

Utah Criminal Offense Classifications

person arrested for breaking drug possession laws

Felonies are divided by tier according to severity. Felonies are classified into four tiers, which include:

  • Capital felony: A conviction can carry a death sentence, life in prison without parole, and 25 to life.
  • First-degree felony: A conviction can carry a minimum of five years to life, along with a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Second-degree felony: A conviction can carry one to fifteen years in prison, along with a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Third-degree felony: A conviction can carry up to five years in prison along with a fine of up to $5,000. 

Misdemeanors are divided into three classes:

  • Class A misdemeanor: A conviction can carry up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
  • Class B misdemeanor: A conviction can carry up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
  • Class C misdemeanor: A conviction can carry up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $750.

The classification of your drug charge is vital to understanding the potential penalties, and what legal options you may have in defending yourself. If you have questions about the potential penalties for your drug possession charge, then it is important that speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative Explained

To try to combat drug abuse more beneficially, the Utah Commission of Criminal and Juvenile Justice (CCJJ) made recommendations to the state legislature about how drug crimes should be treated going forward. The CCJJ inspired House Bill 348, also known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative which sought to save taxpayer money while reserving the most serious consequences for violent offenders. House Bill 348 went into effect in late 2015, marking a significant shift in policy and approach for drug-related cases.

Drug Possession Law Reform Under the Justice Reinvestment Initiative

Some major changes under the Justice Reinvestment Initiative include:

  • Possession of a Schedule I or II drugs is downgraded from a felony to a misdemeanor for the first two convictions. This includes the possession of drugs such as heroin, methamphetamine, and LSD.
  • Possession of fewer than 100 lbs. of Marijuana is downgraded from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor for the first two convictions. A third conviction for marijuana possession is a Class A misdemeanor. 
  • The change in classification of a total of 241 misdemeanors that are reduced to infractions.
  • Reduction of the radius size in “drug-free zones” from 1,000 feet to 100 feet. Drug-free zones are identified by statute and are places where kids are commonly present such as churches, schools, and parks.
  • Additional resources and funding for substance abuse treatment to reduce the prison population and recidivism.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative implemented several impactful changes to Utah drug possession laws, allowing for offenders to be directed more towards treatment and less towards incarceration.

Diversion Under State Law

law book with a gavel for Utah drug possession

Prosecutor diversion programs are a useful method to maintaining a clean criminal record. Title 77 of the Utah Code is the Utah Code of Criminal Procedure. Chapter 2 deals with prosecution, screening, and diversion. Sections 5-9 of this chapter outline the rules and procedures for prosecutor diversionary programs. If a prosecutor criminally charges someone, the prosecutor may offer diversion to that individual before conviction to allow them to maintain a clean criminal record. If an agreement for diversion is made, then a defendant will agree to abide by the conditions of the agreement for a period not to exceed two years. 

If the defendant completes all the terms of his or her diversion agreement, then the criminal charge(s) involved will be dismissed by the court. Utah law states that diversion is not a conviction and if an individual is successful in completing a diversion agreement then the matter will also be treated as if the charge had never been filed. If the defendant violates any of the terms of the diversion agreement, then the defendant is subject to losing his or her diversion status and will be subject to prosecution for the original charge.

Only certain crimes are eligible for diversion under Utah law. No capital or first-degree felony charges are eligible for diversion, nor are any felonies where a motor vehicle was used in the commission of the crime. Give us a call at Schatz Anderson to find out if your specific drug possession charge is eligible for diversion.

Any Further Questions?

Finding a website like ours may help you answer some of your questions, but online research should never be a substitute for the advice of an experienced attorney. If you have been accused of drug possession, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. At Schatz Anderson, we do this free of charge. To schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys, call us at (801) 210-8793 or contact us online.