Utah DUI Laws

Utah DUI Laws

by Corie Lynn Rosen, December 2009

Although Utah has recently made some adjustments to its rules governing certain aspects of driving under the influence, increasing penalties for people with a record of DUI problems, for the most part the DUI laws in the state of Utah are not dissimilar to those of most other states. A DUI arrest in Utah triggers both a criminal case and an administrative case.

The administrative case, conducted by the Utah Driver's License Division, can result in the loss of driving privileges for a protracted period. In order to ensure the administrative process runs smoothly, anyone arrested for driving under the influence in Utah should contact the Utah Driver's License Division as soon as possible, since failure to file for an administrative hearing in a timely fashion may result in suspension of driving privileges altogether.

Dealing with the administrative process is only the first paperwork step in a series, and success at the hearing may suggest a "not guilty" outcome at the criminal trial. However, it is worth noting that even if an arrestee suffers no penalties at the hands of the Utah Driver's License Division, if he or she is later found guilty of the criminal DUI charge, the License Division has the authority to impose license sanctions at that time.

Generally, evidence put on at the DUI criminal trial is collected at the time of the arrest, including evidence of blood alcohol or drug contamination gathered by blood, breath, or urine testing.

The state of Utah uses the theory of implied consent to test drivers for contamination of their blood by alcohol or drugs. Implied consent means that anyone who decides to drive in Utah has impliedly granted the state the authority to administer a test for intoxicants. Because of the implied consent theory, Utah frowns on refusal to submit to testing, imposing sanctions on the driver's license and in some cases even more severe disciplinary penalties.

Of course, a person's refusal to submit to testing may make them look guilty, since it seems unlikely that anyone would refuse testing if he or she knew that nothing incriminating was detectable. The decision to submit to or to refuse testing is one that the individual must make at the time of the arrest and it is important to understand the consequences of both testing and refusal to submit to testing.

Utah uses both a per se theory and the common law prohibition against driving while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol to prosecute people arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. At the criminal trial, a prosecutor may use either or both of these theories to carry out the case.

A per se violation occurs when the arrestee's blood alcohol level violated the legal limit, which in Utah is .08 percent. If the prosecutor can prove that such a violation occurred, no additional evidence is necessary to support a conviction. However, because blood alcohol testing may not always prove as conclusive as the court would like, evidence of driving while intoxicated is often used in addition to the test results gathered by the arresting officer. In order to prove that someone was driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, evidence gathered at the time of the arrest may be submitted. Such evidence includes driving pattern, physical appearance, speech pattern, performance on field sobriety tests, and other similar observations.

In Utah, as in many other states, a great deal of decision making is left to the judge, and he or she will have the discretion to make critical determinations about how to sentence individual offenders. A first time offender in Utah can expect fines and mandatory jail time, the latter of which may be substituted for house arrest at the judge's discretion