Criminal Law

A person charged with a crime in Utah has certain rights guaranteed under the U.S. and Utah Constitutions.  For example, a person charged with a crime has the right to a trial by judge or jury.  At that trial, the prosecutor has the burden to prove that person’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  The person charged, or defendant, has the right to cross examine witnesses testifying against him and the right to use the court’s power to subpoena witnesses on his own behalf.

All persons accused of a crime are legally presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. This presumption means not only that the prosecutor must convince the jury of the defendant’s guilt, but also that the defendant need not say or do anything in his own defense.   A defendant has the right to remain silent and argue that the prosecutor failed to prove his or her case. If the prosecutor can’t convince the jury that the defendant is guilty, the defendant goes free.

In proving the defendant’s guilt, the prosecutor must convince the judge or jury hearing the case that the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the highest burden of proof recognized in court.  The burden is high because of the liberties that are at stake.  As a practical matter, the high burden of proof in criminal cases means that judges and jurors are supposed to resolve all doubts about the meaning of the evidence in favor of the defendant.

A criminal case and trial is governed by rules of evidence and criminal procedure.  Do not make the mistake of believing that a judge or prosecutor will not hold you to those rules should you make the poor decision to represent yourself in any criminal matter.  It is critical that you are competently represented so that your rights and freedoms are protected since a criminal conviction often carries both immediate and long lasting effects on a person’s life.