The State of Utah has some of the strictest impaired driving laws in the nation, with alcohol and drug limits that are substantially lower than other states. This article explains when a driver is considered to be unlawfully impaired and the other requirements for a DUI conviction. This article also outlines the possible penalties for first, second, and third DUI convictions as well as some possible ways to avoid or reduce some of these penalties.
To get a DUI conviction in court, the prosecutor must prove two elements:
However, these two "elements" require a bit more explanation.
Most DUI incidents involve a traffic violation or collision, circumstances that make it clear that the person was operating a motor vehicle. But a DUI conviction in Utah doesn't require actual movement of the vehicle—being in actual physical control of a vehicle is enough.
Utah has defined actual physical control to require a present ability to start and move the vehicle. Relevant considerations in determining whether a person was in actual physical control of a vehicle generally include things like where the person was sitting, where the keys were located, whether the car was running, and whether the person had manipulated any of the vehicle's mechanisms.
A person is considered to be under the influence in Utah:
To prove that a driver was impaired, the prosecutor will often use officer testimony to describe the outward signs of intoxication as well as expert testimony to explain how certain drugs can affect driving ability.
The fact that a driver has a valid prescription for a certain drug is not a defense to an impaired driving charge.
Drivers who are not technically "under the influence" can still be charged with a separate misdemeanor if he or she had any measurable amount of controlled substances or metabolites in their system.
Often called a "metabolite DUI," driving with a measurable amount of controlled substance does not require proof of actual impairment. The prosecutor must prove that the person was in actual physical control of a vehicle and had some amount of controlled substance or metabolite in their body.
Unlike with a standard DUI charge, a driver may be able to establish a defense to a metabolite DUI charge based on a valid prescription or medical marijuana card.
The penalties for a metabolite DUI conviction differ from those for a standard DUI.
Utah statutes set out the range of penalties for DUI convictions, categorized by the number of prior DUI convictions the driver has.
When considering how many prior convictions a driver has for sentencing purposes, only convictions within the last ten years are counted. However, the convictions that are counted include DUIs, metabolite DUIs, chemical test refusals, and negligent homicides.
A first- or second-offense DUI will generally be charged as a misdemeanor. The fines and jail time for a first or second conviction are as follows.
48 hours to 6 months
10 to 364 days
$700 to $1,000
$800 to $2,500
The presence of certain factors can elevate the standard penalties of a DUI. A DUI will be considered aggravated if the driver had a BAC of .16% or more, was impaired by two or more controlled substances, or had a BAC of .05% or more and tested positive for controlled substances. A driver convicted of aggravated DUI will face a minimum five days in jail for a first offense and a minimum 20 days in jail for a second offense.
A driver who had a passenger under the age of 16 or was traveling the wrong way down the highway will have their DUI elevated to a class A misdemeanor. A conviction carries a maximum 364 days in jail and up to $2,500 in fines. The driver can be charged with a separate offense for each underage passenger.
In most cases, the judge will order the offender to complete a period of probation instead of a long jail term. However, the offender must generally complete the minimum jail term provided by the DUI laws.
Probation generally lasts at least a year and requires the offender to comply with certain rules. During probation, the offender will generally be required to complete and comply with all assigned treatment programs, refrain from alcohol and drug use, and possibly attend a victim impact panel.
All persons convicted of a DUI must complete a drug and alcohol screening to determine the presence and extent of any chemical dependencies. Judges generally consider the screening results in deciding what types of programs or treatment to order as conditions of probation.
Time served in inpatient treatment can be counted towards the minimum jail term for a DUI conviction.
Judges can order DUI offenders to participate in a "24/7 sobriety program." This program requires the use of a SCRAM bracelet or twice-daily drug and alcohol testing and lasts 30 days for a first-offense DUI and one year for repeat violations. Participation in the program will reduce or eliminate the mandatory jail time for a DUI conviction.
Drivers can sometimes reduce the minimum jail requirements and start probation early by wearing a SCRAM bracelet. The minimum jail periods can be reduced to:
However, offenders generally must pay certain costs associated with the use of a SCRAM device.
A metabolite DUI is a class B misdemeanor. A driver who's convicted of a metabolite DUI will face up to $1,000 in fines and a maximum six months in jail. The driver's license will also be suspended for 120 days. Drivers with prior DUI convictions will be suspended for at least two years. Drivers who voluntarily enroll in the 24/7 sobriety program can reduce the suspension period.
If a DUI conviction is preceded by at least two prior DUI or refusal convictions within the last ten years, the current offense will be charged as a class 3 felony. Once a driver is convicted of a felony DUI, all future offenses, regardless of the time passage, will be considered felonies.
A driver convicted of a felony DUI will face 60 days to five years in jail followed by 60 days on house arrest with a SCRAM bracelet. The offender must also complete any screening, assessment, and treatment ordered by the court and pay a fine of $1,500 to $5,000.
An aggravated felony DUI requires the offender to serve at least 120 days in jail, followed by 120 days of house arrest with a SCRAM bracelet.
Getting caught for impaired driving will often result in license penalties. In Utah, license-related penalties can result from a DUI arrest and/or conviction. Penalties generally depend on the number of prior offenses, the driver's cooperation with testing, and the level of impairment.
Utah's implied consent law requires drivers who are arrested for a DUI or for Metabolite DUI to submit to a chemical test of their breath, blood, urine, or saliva. For drivers with an alcohol-restricted license (explained below), the officer need only have probable cause to believe the driver consumed any amount of alcohol for testing to be required.
When a driver refuses a lawful chemical test request, the officer will issue a notice of suspension and submit a report to the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV). The DMV will revoke the driver's license for:
The fact that the driver refused to comply with a chemical test request can be used as evidence in court to prove the DUI offense.
All DUI convictions are reported to the DMV and will resulting license suspension. The DMV will suspend the driver's license for:
Some offenders—such as first offenders with no aggravating factors—may be eligible for a limited license during the suspension period. This license authorizes vehicle operation during certain hours and to and from certain places.
Following license suspension and revocation, drivers will also be required to install an ignition interlock device on all operated vehicles. The IID restriction will be for:
In addition to license suspension, a driver suspended or convicted of impaired driving will be designated as an "alcohol-restricted driver." Alcohol-restricted drivers are prohibited from operating a motor vehicle with any amount of consumed alcohol. A conviction is a class B misdemeanor and suspected drivers are required to submit to testing under the implied consent law. The alcohol-restricted driver designation lasts for:
Utah prohibits drivers under the age of 21 from having any measurable amount of alcohol in their system. An underage drunk driving (UUD) violation is not a criminal offense but will result in the following administrative penalties imposed by the DMV:
Utah's implied consent laws extend to UUD offenses and a driver who unlawfully refuses a chemical test will be suspended for 24 months or until 21 years old. A repeat violation carries a minimum 36-month revocation.
Unlike many states, Utah does not offer diversion agreements for alcohol-related driving offenses. So, dismissal of a DUI charge is unlikely. However, an experienced attorney may be able to negotiate a lesser charge or a lesser sentence depending on the circumstances of your case and situation. Consult with a local attorney to discuss your best options.