Criminal Penalties

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This page provides general information about criminal penalties. After a person has been convicted of a crime, a judge considers many factors before imposing a sentence. A judge can impose a sentence that includes a jail or prison term, probation, a fine, community service, restitution, or a combination of these penalties. One of the factors a judge considers when deciding what penalties to impose is the type of crime that was committed.


Classification of Criminal Offenses

Crimes are classified into three categories: felonies, misdemeanors and infractions. To determine what category a crime falls into, look at the law in the Utah Code (if state law), or the appropriate city or county code. Most criminal statutes will say how the crime is classified.



A felony is a major crime that can be punished with imprisonment, a fine, or both. There are four categories of felonies.


Possible Prison Term

Possible Fine


Life in prison, life in prison without parole, or death

First Degree

Five years to life in prison

Up to $10,000

Second Degree

One to 15 years in prison

Up to $10,000

Third Degree

Zero to five years in prison

Up to $5,000

See Utah Code §76-3-203 and §76-3-301



A misdemeanor is an offense lower than a felony which can be punished with a county jail term of up to 364 days, a fine, or both. Many city and county ordinances and some state laws are misdemeanors. There are three categories of misdemeanors.


Possible Prison Term

Possible Fine

Class A

Up to 364 days in jail

Up to $2,500

Class B

Up to six months in jail

Up to $1,000 or
compensatory service

Class C

Up to 90 days in jail

Up to $750 or
compensatory service

See Utah Code §76-3-204 and §76-3-301



An infraction is punishable by a fine up to $750, compensatory service, forfeiture, disqualification, or a combination of those punishments.


Compensatory Service

It may be possible to perform service or unpaid work instead of paying a criminal fine. This is called "compensatory service." Each hour of compensatory service is worth $10.00. Compensatory service can be performed for:

  • a state or local government agency;
  • a nonprofit organization; or
  • any other entity or organization if prior approval is obtained from the court.

Utah Code 76-3-301.7.


How a Sentence is Determined

The judge determines the sentence of a person convicted of a crime using the Utah Sentence and Release Guidelines. These are available on the Utah Sentencing Commission's website.

The Guidelines also provide aggravating and mitigating factors that can be considered in sentencing.

Aggravating factors

These are facts of the case that can make the punishment more severe, including:

  • whether the victim suffered substantial bodily injury;
  • whether the offense was extremely cruel or depraved;
  • whether the offender was in a position of authority over the victim;
  • whether the victim was unusually vulnerable.
  • whether the victim was selected because of a personal attribute. Utah Code 76-3-23.14.

A penalty can also be more severe if:

  • the person committed the crime with two or more other people;
  • the person used a dangerous weapon on or near a school;
  • the person committed the crime in the presence of a child;
  • the person is determined to have committed a hate crime;
  • the person is determined to be a habitual offender;
  • the offense was committed while in prison.

Mitigating factors

These are facts of the case that can make the punishment less severe, including:

  • whether the offender was exceptionally cooperative with law enforcement;
  • is a good candidate for treatment;
  • has developmental disabilities.


The Sentencing Process

How the sentencing process works depends on the type of case. There are two types of cases: non-capital cases, where the possible punishment does not include the death penalty and capital cases, where a defendant could be sentenced to death.

Non-Capital Cases

A person convicted of a crime has the right to be sentenced in no fewer than two and no more than 45 days after conviction or entry of a plea. The defendant can waive that time frame and be sentenced on the day of conviction or plea. The defendant may also choose to be sentenced after 45 days if they need more time to prepare for sentencing.

In felony cases, the judge often orders the Department of Corrections' Division of Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P) to prepare a pre-sentence report. This confidential report for the judge includes:

  • the police report;
  • the defendant's prior adult and juvenile record;
  • the defendant's statement;
  • drug and alcohol history;
  • family history;
  • probation history;
  • impact of the crime on the victim;
  • a sentencing recommendation for the judge's consideration.

Victims and the defendant have the right to speak at the sentencing hearing. A judge making a sentencing decision considers their remarks along with the pre-sentence report and other evidence.

Capital Cases

A sentencing hearing is held at which defense counsel introduces evidence to show mitigating circumstances, and the state may introduce evidence to show aggravating circumstances. The jury or judge then deliberates to determine whether the person should be given the death penalty or a life sentence.