Most people do not fully understand court proceedings. The State of Utah Administrative Office of the Courts under the direction of Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, provided an informative booklet on the navigation of the court system. To better inform readers, the Southern Utah News will be highlighting different aspects of our court system.

District court proceedings criminal process

A criminal case occurs when the government believes a person has committed an act prohibited by criminal law and the prosecutor brings a charge against the party alleged to have broken the law.

In Kane County, these actions will be prosecuted by the Kane County Attorney''s Office; Jim Scarth, as the Kane County Attorney and Deputy County file the charges after law enforcement officers have made them. They also must facilitate court actions to prosecute (or not) the individual on behalf of the state of Utah.

For defense of a charge brought against them by the state, the individual basically has three options. They can be their own lawyer and navigate the legal waters themselves, hire a lawyer to defend them, or if they don''t have the financial means, a court-appointed attorney will represent them.

There are three classifications of criminal activity; infraction, misdemeanor or felony.

• Infraction

An infraction is a minor offense punishable by a fine only. There can be a trial, but not by a jury. Examples of this are city traffic violations and some disorderly conduct.

• Misdemeanor

This is an offense lower than a felony that is punishable by a county jail term of up to one-year and/or a fine, but not prison.

Many city and county ordinances and some state laws fall into the misdemeanor category. Misdemeanors have three categories. All can be tried by a jury.

Class C: Public intoxication, no valid license and driving on a suspended license.

Class B: Assault, resisting arrest, DUI, reckless driving, possession of marijuana under one oz., possession of drug paraphernalia, shoplifting (under $300), trespass of a dwelling, public nuisance, concealed weapon and many traffic offenses.

Class A: Negligent homicide, DUI with injury, theft, assault on a police officer, criminal mischief and possession of marijuana (more than one ounce and less than 16 ounces.)

• Felony

A felony is a major crime for which the defendant may be sentenced to prison in a state correctional institution. The court may also impose probation and/or a fine. Felonies are classifed into four categories.

Third degree: Burglary of a non-dwelling, theft of more than $1000 but less than $5000, aggravated assault, forgery of checks more than $1000 but under $5000, third DUI in ten years, joyriding (for more than 24 hours) possession with intent to distribute marijuana, and possession of cocaine, meth, LSD or heroin and false or forged prescriptions.

Second degree: Manslaughter, robbery, residential burglary, kidnapping, perjury, auto theft, forgery of checks $5000 or more, forcible sexual abuse and intentional child abuse (with serious injury).

First degree: Murder, rape, child kidnapping, aggravated burglary (residential), aggravated robbery or arson, and possession with intent to distribute cocaine, heroin, meth or LSD within 1000 feet of any school.

Capital offense:  This is a first- degree felony that has mitigating circumstances. The jury or judge deliberates to determine whether the person should be given the death penalty or a life sentence.  

The sentencing guidelines for felonies are the following: third degree-one to five years; second degree felony is one to fifteen years, first degree felony is five years to life.