Utah’s Potential Penalties for Illegal Drug-Related Charges

Interviewer: For possession, what are the charges and what are the potential penalties for it of an illegal drug?

Possession of Certain Illegal Drugs Will Be Charged as a Felony

Court Koehler: For illegal drugs, it’s the same as possession of a controlled substance without a prescription. So you are looking at a class D misdemeanor up to a felony and it depends on the type of drug.  Marijuana is less severe, especially the small quantity.  It probably could be a class D misdemeanor.  If you have a drug such as LSD or a methamphetamine, you are looking at a third degree felony.  Even if it’s a small amount, it’s going to be a felony.

Interviewer: So Utah is more severe with some drugs but views marijuana as not as seriously?

The Government in Utah Imposes Severe Penalties for Possession of Methamphetamines

Court Koehler: They are not happy about it but it’s definitely not as severe as having a methamphetamine.  In general, judges do not like methamphetamine use. They don’t like the idea that it’s in their communities.  They don’t go easy on it. Legislation does not like it so the penalties are definitely much higher.

Since Most Drug-Related Charges Originate as Police Stops for DUI, Will a DUI Charge Be Added as Well?

Interviewer: You mentioned earlier that the drug charges typically originate during a traffic stop, so is a DUI charge also commonly added?

Court Koehler: Yes, quite often it is added.  This is because what is going to happen is when the officer pulls you over, most often it’s going to be for a suspicion of driving under the influence, usually linked to a traffic infraction.

During the investigation of driving under the influence, maybe instead of smelling alcohol, the officer smells marijuana or he sees something in your car like a baggie with white powder.  The majority of occurrences do begin as a traffic stop.

How Defensible Are Cases with Both a DUI Charge and a Drug-Related Charge?  

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Interviewer: How complicated are the cases where you have a DUI charge and a drug possession charge?

Utah Prosecutors Are Traditionally Hard on DUI Offenders

Court Koehler:  In a somewhat backwards way it can be of benefit in the sense that the more charges you have – the more charges we can work toward dropping.  That’s not really the best way to look at it because prosecutors are usually really hard on DUIs.

DUI Charges Are Subject to Very Limited Plea Bargains

DUI is considered a political crime and most of the prosecutor’s offices around Utah have certain interoffice policies about what they will and will not do as far as plea bargains with driving under the influence.  If you just have a driving under the influence charge, frequently, there is not really much we can do in terms of a plea bargain.  We are limited in our options.

If you have that in connection with a drug charge, possibly we can do something such as having the drug charges dropped if you are going to plead for the DUI.  One way of looking at it that can kind of be helpful, is that you are still going to be pleading guilty to the DUI in that circumstance. And, that’s not ideal but certainly better than pleading guilty to both charges.

Drug Possession Charges Originate from a Police Stop; Drug Distribution Cases Typically Originate from a Police Investigation

Interviewer: Do you see drug cases that do not originate with a traffic stop and instead begin at people’s houses?

Court Koehler: When you have the strict distribution cases, it’s more common to see sort of an investigation resulting from an actual investigation.

Sometimes a police officer will get a tip from a neighbor about suspicious activity at a house, such as people coming and going at strange hours, not staying for very long and they think that this person might be dealing drugs. In that kind of a case, officers will typically end up getting a warrant and then they’ll go and they’ll search the house and that’s it will start.

Sometimes it can happen with the aid of a confidential informant. This may be a person that was arrested with drugs and they make a deal to help police catch the bigger fish. So they’ll sort of go under cover or they’ll get information about a major dealer and again an investigation will start and a warrant will be obtained. Those are the more serious cases, where you are investigating an individual in possession of large quantities or are investigating somebody that is dealing on a regular basis.

By Court Koehler

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