Navigating Utah’s Rules of Criminal Procedure

If you are charged with a crime in Utah, the process will follow Utah’s criminal procedure rules. These rules govern the series of proceedings through which the local, state, and federal government enforces substantive criminal law. The rules of criminal procedure vary widely in different municipalities and at the state and federal level. The expert legal team at Brown, Bradshaw & Moffat have decades of experience with criminal procedure in Utah. We can help you navigate the rules and present a strong defense.

Rules of Utah Criminal Procedure

The rules that govern Utah’s criminal procedure are, as you might expect, long and complex. If you look at the Utah courts website on criminal procedure, you will find there are 41 documented rules, and many of the rules have additional subsections. To help you understand some of these rules, we have summarized three of the main parts of the process.

Preliminary Examination (Hearing)

A preliminary examination is overseen by a magistrate, which is a judge who hears preliminary evidence. Probable cause is the standard of proof in criminal trials. In basic terms, probable cause means that a reasonable person with access to all of the evidence could conclude that the defendant committed a crime.” In Utah, during a preliminary examination, the prosecution must prove to the magistrate:

  1. the crime charged by the state was committed
  2. the defendant committed it

Probable cause can be based on hearsay and other evidence that might not be allowed in trial. A preliminary examination allows the prosecution to present a case against the defendant and the defendant the chance to offer a defense. If the magistrate rules there is probable cause, the defendant is then bound over for trial.

One additional thing to note is that a defendant may waive his or her right to a preliminary examination. In some cases, that may be the best move for the defendant. Your defense lawyer can help you determine the best choice for your case.

Arraignment and Pleading

Before a trial begins, the defendant must be arraigned, which is a reading in an open court of the charges presented. Once a defendant has been arraigned, he or she must enter a plea. Contrary to what you may have seen on TV, there are more than two ways to plead. In addition to not guilty and guilty, a defendant may plead no contest, not guilty by reason of insanity, or guilty and mentally ill.

While a not guilty plea will lead to a trial, guilty pleas in Utah must meet a certain set of requirements to be accepted. This is to make sure the defendant understands what a guilty plea means and that they were not forced in any way to give that plea. A guilty plea in Utah is not accepted until the court has found the following:

  • the plea is voluntarily made
  • the defendant knows all their rights and understands that by entering the a plea of guilty, they have waived their rights
  • the defendant understands the nature and elements of the offense to which the plea is entered, that upon trial the prosecution would have the burden of proving each of those elements beyond a reasonable doubt, and that the plea is an admission of all those elements
  • there is a factual basis for the plea.

For more information on the various ways the courts handle other pleas, you can look through the plea rules on the Utah courts website.

The Trial

In a trial, the defendant has the right to be present for all examinations. However, in certain circumstances, the defendant may consent to a trial without being present or be forced to leave based on tumultuous conduct.

All felony cases will be by jury trial, unless the defendant waives a jury and the court and prosecution agree. Other trials do not include a jury, however, a defendant may make a demand for a jury (except in trials for infractions).

The trial will follow this general process:

  • Reading of the charge and statement of the plea
  • Opening statements (defense may choose to pass on this and wait until the prosecution has rested to present their case)
  • The prosecution offers evidence in support of the charge
  • The defense presents its case
  • Each side may then offer only rebutting evidence (unless the court, for good cause, otherwise permits)
  • Once evidence is concluded and at any other appropriate time, the court shall instruct the jury

Additionally, unless the cause is submitted to the jury without argument, the prosecution opens the argument, the defense follows, and then the prosecution may close by responding to the defense argument. The court can also set reasonable time limits for the argument of counsel for each party.

Learn More

These are just a small sampling of the many rules that govern criminal procedure in Utah. You can do some of your own research to learn more about the rules on our criminal procedure page or the Utah courts website.

Speak to a Defense Lawyer About Criminal Procedure in Utah

Your criminal defense attorney should be well versed in Utah's rules of criminal procedure to ensure a strong defense for your case. If you have questions about Utah's criminal procedure and how to navigate the process, contact one of our experienced criminal defense lawyers at Brown, Bradshaw & Moffat, LLP. We will do everything we can to help you fight your charges.


You can reach our expert legal team at (801) 532-5297 to get started on your defense with a free, no obligation consultation.

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