Criminal and Family Law

Criminal and Family Law

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The Endgame — Sentencing and Sentencing Guidelines

At the end of the day, jail is almost never the answer. Study after study shows that jail rarely helps prevent future crime. In cases where the judge requires punishment, our clients are rarely sentenced to jail. We have had great success persuading judges to impose community service, fines, or counseling rather than jail. Unfortunately, in a few cases, incarceration is unavoidable.  Some people go to jail, some go to prison — for days or for years. However, hiring a good criminal defense attorney will give you the best chance at staying out of jail or minimizing any jail time when it is unavoidable.

In Utah, judges use sentencing guidelines as a tool, when deciding what an appropriate sentence should be. Most of the time, the court stays within those guidelines, but will be influenced by factors like:

  • Prior criminal or juvenile record
  • Supervision history and risk
  • Crime and category

Sentencing judges are allowed to factor into guidelines criteria that worsen or aggravate the crime, and criteria that lessen, or mitigate criminal behavior.

Aggravating factors include:

  • Repetitive criminal conduct
  • Offender presents threat of violent behavior
  • Injury to person or property was severe
  • Victim was especially vulnerable

Mitigating factors include:

  • Offender is young
  • Crime was committed under strong provocation
  • Actions taken did not cause or threaten serious harm
  • Restitution is complete or nearly complete

The severity of Utah sentencing guidelines is balanced against the reality of limited resources available to the Department of Corrections (UDC). Statistics provided by the UDC currently show maximum prison capacity of just over 7,000 inmates. Current total prison inmate count stands at just under 7,000. So many convictions, so few resources.


Defendants without legal counsel fare poorly under Utah sentencing guidelines. If you are arrested, talk to a good defense lawyer. Listen closely and make sure you understand what needs to happen. Your future may depend on it.

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