The Justice Court’s Role in Utah’s Legal System
Justice courts were created to handle the less serious offenses committed by individuals such a traffic offenses, first and second DUIs, petty marijuana offenses, simple assaults, and petty thefts. Justice court judges have many of the same powers as district court judges, but justice court judges do not have to be lawyers before becoming judges, which means they do not have to be law trained. Nonetheless, justice court judges can issue warrants, set bail, issue commitment orders to send individuals to jail, and impose fines. Justice court judges impose fines more than any other punishment because the fines go to the city coffers or county coffers depending on what type of justice court it is. Sadly, many justice courts are revenue producers for the city that created them, and little else.
Two Bites at the Apple
The Utah Legislature has made it so that anything that happens in a justice court can be disposed of as though it never happened, by giving defendants in justice courts the ability to appeal any conviction to the district court. it is called a trial de novo, and essential means a “do over.”
Some justice court judges are more tyrants than judges and for some reason love punishing people severely. We had a case where our client hired us to a appeal from a justice court because the judge threw him jail for 90 days for breaking a plank on his neighbors fence. Seriously…that’s all he did. When justice court judges do crazy things like that, simply appeal the conviction and get out of that court.
Utah court rules also provide a way to stop a justice court judge from sending you to jail in most cases. If the justice court judge sends you to jail and you appeal, the jail sentence is immediately stayed in most situations. There are some situations where the jail sentence will remain in place, but those are few and far between and even then you can petition the district court to stop the justice court from sending you to jail.
Don’t get stuck with a bad justice court outcome. Call our Provo criminal defense lawyers today to get the legal protection you need.