Natty Shafer Law

Utah lawyer for criminal and immigration cases

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Utah’s Minor in Possession of Alcohol Law

Utah’s law prohibiting minors from possessing alcohol has been referenced in the news over the last few days because an underage football player for the University of Utah received a citation for allegedly possessing alcohol. A minor in Utah may not buy, possess, or consume alcohol under Utah Code 32B-4-409. The law also makes it illegal to knowingly present false identification or otherwise misrepresent someone’s age in order to obtain alcohol or to attempt to buy or to ask an adult to buy alcohol.

Most states have similar laws, but many people may not be aware that, in Utah, a minor’s driver’s license can be suspended even if no driving was involved. Many minors care far more about the driver’s license suspension than about the possibilities of large fines, jail time, or the repercussions of having misdemeanors on their records. The Utah Driver’s License Division may suspend the minor’s licence for 1 to 2 years, depending on the circumstances of the alleged crime. The driver’s license suspension will not be shorter just because a person was almost 21 years of age, either.

There are other ways, however, to shorten or to avoid a driver’s license suspension. The law allows a judge to reduce the suspension if the minor completes an “educational series” about substance abuse. Sometimes it is possible to complete the classes before a guilty plea is even entered. In such cases, it may be possible to convince the judge to forgo the license suspension entirely.

If you or someone you know has been accused under Utah’s minor in possession law, it is important to hire a lawyer immediately. It will help anyone accused to navigate the system and maximize their chances of keeping their driver’s licenses.

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What to Expect at the DLD Hearing

Earlier, I wrote about requesting a hearing at the Utah Driver’s License Division and how it is necessary for anyone cited for a Utah DUI to keep their driver’s licence. This post addresses what to expect at the actual hearing.

The hearing will be right at the DLD, the same place where people are standing in line to receive their driver’s licenses. Each office in Utah is a little bit different, but it is usually off to the side, with several offices for the “hearing examiners.” The attorney lets someone know that the defense is ready. Before the hearing begins, the hearing examiner may give various documents to the lawyer. For suspects who had their blood drawn, a toxicology report may be among them. Toxicology is a preliminary report that shows alcohol content, as well as the presence of certain narcotics that could lead to a Metabolite DUI.

The arresting officer usually telephones into the hearing instead of appearing in person. Once the officer has alerted the DLD they are ready, the hearing officer will usher everyone else into their office. If the officer is on the phone, the hearing examiner will put them on speaker phone so everyone can hear. Remember though, in about one-fifth of all Utah DLD hearings, the police officer fails to appear and the accused wins by default.

The hearing will observe some of the rules of a courtroom, but it is going to be a lot less formal. Usually, everyone is sitting around a desk with a land-line telephone in the middle of it. The questions do not follow the strict protocol required of courtrooms. The hearing examiner—who works for the DLD—will act as both the judge and jury. They are in no way impartial. Their bosses at the DLD review their decisions and are in charge of promotions and other incentives. The hearing examiners are inclined to believe the arresting police officers.

During the hearing, the officer needs to establish 2 things: 1) the suspect was “in actual, physical control” of the vehicle; and 2) the basis for believing the suspect was under the influence. Usually, the officer will establish the suspect was in actual, physical control by testifying the suspect was driving when they pulled them over. Other times, the officer will need to testify their basis for belief the suspect was in control, such as that they came to the scene of an accident or they approached a car with someone asleep with the keys in the ignition. To establish that someone was under the influence, officers will introduce a chemical test: a breathalyzer, blood test, or urine analysis. The officer may also testify about any field sobriety tests that were conducted.

After the police officer has given their narrative, the hearing examiner may ask some clarifying questions. The attorney will have the opportunity to question the officer next. Then the hearing examiner will give the suspect a chance to testify. Generally, it is not a good idea for the suspect to testify because hearing examiners rarely give such testimony any weight. Any discrepancies between the police officer’s testimony and the suspect’s testimony are usually resolved in the officer’s favor.

Assuming the officer does call-in to the hearing, having a lawyer is really critical for you to have any chance of prevailing at the DLD hearing. Laypeople frequently hurt themselves at the DLD hearing. Their testimony will be under oath, so anything they say could be used in a later court proceeding. Furthermore, laypeople tend to let irrelevant issues cloud their emotions and miss the pertinent issues. Only a lawyer who has seen a Utah DLD hearing before will be familiar with the facts that could decide the case in your favor. No one wants to have their driver’s license suspended for four months.