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How Are DUI Charges Defined In Utah?


In Utah, there are two separate statutes that prosecutors use to charge a DUI. The first one is 41-6A-502, commonly known as driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. That statute says that a person may not operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle within this state if they are under the influence of alcohol, any drug or the combined influence of alcohol and any drug to a degree that renders them incapable of safely operating a vehicle. Based on some kind of driving pattern or accident, as well as the rest of the officer’s investigation, it is determined whether or not the person was under the influence of alcohol or drugs or the combined effects of those to a degree of being incapable of safely operating a vehicle. There is a second prong to the statute, which is known as a per se DUI. This type of DUI is more commonly prosecuted, and is defined as driving, operating, or being in actual physical control of a vehicle while having a blood or breath alcohol concentration of 0.08 grams or more per 210 liters of breath. That value must be present at the time of the test or at the time that the person was in actual physical control of the vehicle.

The second statute is 41-6A-517, which is commonly known as driving with a measurable controlled substance in the body. That statute basically says that it’s illegal to operate or be in actual physical control of a vehicle in Utah while having any measurable controlled substance or metabolite of a controlled substance in your body.

In the first instance, there may be an accident or some suspicion of impaired or drugged driving. Then, a blood test would be obtained in order to determine the presence or lack thereof of a controlled substance (cocaine, heroin, marijuana, THC, etc.) or the metabolite of a controlled substance. The detection of metabolites is very problematic for marijuana users because metabolized THC is not flushed out of the body for weeks after consumption. The cruel joke is that a person could be driving through Utah stone-cold sober and get a DUI based on the fact that they had smoked or ingested marijuana days or weeks prior. Those are the two statutes and the four ways that someone can get a DUI in Utah.

What Happens After Someone Is Pulled Over On Suspicion Of DUI?

Usually, contact with police does not officially start off with the suspicion of a DUI. The officer will first perceive or observe a traffic offense (speeding, failing to stop at a red light, etc.) and then make contact with the driver. In the course of doing so, they make other observations that create suspicion of DUI. So, the driving sequence is where the officer first observes some sort of traffic offense, and the stopping sequence is where the officer is observing how the vehicle comes to a stop. It is usually not until the officer makes contact with the driver that the first official suspicion of DUI arrives. This suspicion is usually based on the odor of an alcoholic beverage or physical characteristics exhibited by the person (slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, droopy eyes, etc.).

With that basis, the officer may feel justified in expanding the scope of the stop from a traffic stop to a DUI investigation. The officer will ask the person if they’ve been drinking, and if so, how much they’ve been drinking. The driver should never make any kinds of admissions. Ultimately, the officer will end up performing some field sobriety tests on the person, telling them that they just want to ensure that they’re okay to drive. Sometimes there are some initial tests done while the person is still sitting in the driver’s seat, but more commonly they’ll have the person exit the vehicle, go to the back of a car and perform three standardized field sobriety tests.

A standardized test simply means that the test is in accordance with the standards of the National Highway Transportation & Safety Administration, which is the federal agency that has developed and “validated” the field tests. The first test is the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, during which you’re asked to follow a stimulus (usually a finger or a pen) from side-to-side. There are actually three components (sometimes four) to that single test. The second test is the Walk and Turn test, during which you’re asked to take 9 steps forward heel-to-toe on a line (usually imaginary), and then make a specific kind of a turn in a series of small steps, and then make 9 heel-to-toe steps back on the same (imaginary) line. During this test, the subject’s hands should be at their side. The officer will be looking for 9 clues, such as stepping off the line, missing heel-to-toe, incorrect number of steps, incorrect turn, raising arms, etc. The third test is the One Leg Stand test, during which the officer has the person stand on one leg while holding the other leg in the air for 30 seconds. During this test, the officer will make observations and look for any one of 4 specific clues indicating impairment. For each test the officer is required to provide certain specific instructions, to demonstrate the test, and to make sure that the subject understands the test.

The officer’s goal is to build probable cause for their suspicion of DUI and move toward requesting a chemical test. Before they do that, they will often use what’s called the Portable Breath Test (PBT), which gives a specific number reading. Although it is inadmissible in Utah courts, officers rely on and represent PBT readings as a positive or negative indication of the presence of alcohol. From there, they will likely place the person under arrest and require that they submit to a breath test or a blood test.

In Utah, the officer has the sole discretion as to the type of chemical test to be performed. The breath test is usually given at a separate location. Sometimes law enforcement has portable machines that are utilized in the field and give a more contemporaneous reading. Alternatively, a person will be brought before a licensed professional to have their blood drawn, which will then be analyzed at the state lab. From there, a person will be given notice and a citation of their arrest for DUI, which instigates two parallel processes. One is an administrative process in the driver’s license division, which deals with the person’s privilege to drive in Utah. The other one is a judicial process in the court system, which deals with the issue of the person’s guilt or innocence in light of the evidence and whether or not it satisfies the elements of the offense as defined and charged.

If a person has a Utah driver’s license, then it will be confiscated. The driver will be given a citation, which serves as evidence of their privilege to drive in Utah for the next 30 days. A person has 10 calendar days to request an administrative hearing on the issue of whether or not their driver’s license should be suspended. This request is submitted through the Driver’s License Division of the Department of Public Safety, and the hearing itself is required to be provided within the 30-day timeframe. If a person has a non-Utah driver’s license, then their license will not be confiscated. They will, however, face a suspension of their privilege to drive in the state of Utah. In other words, unless and until the issuing state takes action on that person’s non-Utah license, it remains valid in the other 49 states. All persons, whether possessing a Utah or out-of-state license – or no license at all — have the right to an administrative hearing on the issue of the suspension of their privilege to drive in Utah, and should request one within 10 days. From there, the person will then wait for a case to be filed in court.

For more information on DUI Charges In Utah, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (801) 455-1743 today.

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