So how can someone be charged and/or convicted of a crime even if they didn’t know it was illegal?
As criminal defense attorneys, we are often faced with this question by our concerned clients. In Utah, it can and does happen, regardless of the fact that there are thousands of laws with a wide range of legal jargon that is vague and takes time to determine the meaning by even the best legal minds available. Consequently, judges, lawyers and even our legislature continually re-address the definitions and ramifications of said laws while we as citizens are found to be responsible for knowing them.
A few common cases of this that have come to our attention regularly are:
1. DUI: Everyone knows that if you are found to be driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or over a .08 blood alcohol content, you can be found guilty of a DUI. However, did you know that if you are found sleeping in your vehicle, regardless of whether or not you have actually driven it while under the influence prior to sleeping, you can be charged and found guilty of the exact same crime? (UCA 41-6a-501)
2. Possession of Drugs: While it is an understatement to say that you can be prosecuted of possessing any illegal drug (marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin, etc.), many don’t know that it is equally punishable to possess any counterfeit substance while holding it out to be the same potentially dangerous drug. For example, a baggie of baking soda represented to be something illegal will be prosecuted the exact same as if it were truly the drug. (UCA 58-37-8)
3. Aggravated Robbery: This being one of the more serious crimes in Utah and punished severely requires that during a robbery, the actor either use or threaten to use a dangerous weapon, cause serious bodily injury, or take an operable motor vehicle. (UCA 76-6-301) The Utah definition of a “dangerous weapon” includes an item capable of causing death or serious bodily injury, or a representation of the item if it leads the victim to believe it is actually dangerous. Clearly, a different intent between the actor who brings a loaded weapon and points it at the gas station clerk, versus the actor who brings a toy look alike gun and points it at the gas station clerk. One making it impossible to shootsomeone. However, both scenarios are prosecuted as the same degree of felony: a first degree felony. ( UCA 76-1-601)
The law is constantly changing and requires a great amount of time to interpret: this is the specialty of criminal defense attorneys. “Ignorance,” as the saying goes, “is no excuse” – remember that before you decide to proceed without educated representation. You might very well be surprised by the difference educated representation by a criminal defense attorney might make.
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