Why Intent Matters in Utah Criminal Cases

If you are accused of committing a crime in Utah, you may have thought the only question in determining your guilt or innocence is whether or not you did it. However, it may surprise you to know that it’s a little more complicated than that. Your intent — the reason you allegedly did it — can be the difference that puts you behind bars.

For Some Crimes, Intent Is Everything

Several of the 10 most common crimes in Utah have the word intent written in the law as a caveat. 

One example is impersonation. If you dress up as a police officer, you can get charged with impersonation of an officer, which can land you in jail for up to six months.

So does that mean your child can get in trouble for dressing up as a cop for Halloween? Most likely not, and it’s because of intent. According to Utah law, it’s a crime if you impersonate an officer “with intent to deceive another or with intent to induce another to submit to his pretended official authority.” Without intent, you are not committing a crime.

Another example is burglary. Contrary to popular belief, Utah’s legal definition has little to do with robbery, although that can be part of it. Burglary is when you illegally enter a property with the “intent to commit” one of the following crimes:

The interesting thing about burglary is you don’t have to actually commit any of these crimes. The prosecutor just has to prove that you were on the property illegally, and that your motivation was to commit the crime. 

Burglary is not something you want to be convicted of. Depending on the situation, burglary is either a second or third degree felony, meaning you can get up to 15 years in prison.

Intent Can Affect The Severity of the Charge

This is especially true when it comes to homicide. If your actions lead to the death of the person — even if you never intended to kill anyone — you can still end up behind bars. However, that intent is very important in determining how long you’re there.

If you are convicted of murder, that generally means it was proven that you “intentionally or knowingly [caused] the death of another individual” or someone dies after you put them in a situation in which you knew that could be the outcome.

Murder is a first degree felony, and in normal circumstances, that means five years to life. However, Utah has a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years for this crime.

There are “lesser” charges of homicide including manslaughter. This is when someone “recklessly causes the death of another individual.” Notice that the language of “intent” is not there. That difference reduces the charge to a second degree felony, in which the maximum sentence you can get is 15 years.

There is another way you can get convicted of manslaughter, and the question of intent is a little more complicated than, “Did you mean to do it.” It is when you intend to kill someone, and it wasn’t justified by the law, but you reasonably thought it was. 

In other words, you thought you could argue self defense, but for some reason, you couldn’t. In this case, the court can reduce your charge from murder to manslaughter.

What To Do If You’re Accused of a Crime

Whether you intended to commit a crime or not, it is your right to be represented by an attorney, and frankly, it’s a right that you should take advantage of. Navigating the legal process can be a minefield, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. You can make matters worse for yourself and end up with a punishment that is more severe than what you actually deserve.

Having an experienced partner by your side can be an asset that ensures you get the best outcome possible, and you can find one at Brown, Bradshaw & Moffat. They have over two decades under their belt, and they have been recognized by various publications as some of the best in Utah.

They would love to help you out! For a free consultation, call (801) 532-5297.


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