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Why criminal justice reform is a smart investment for Americans

Many Americans don’t realize it, but the United States locks up more of its own citizens than any other country. Incarceration seems to be the tool most favored by the criminal justice system, politicians and everyday taxpayers.

But what is prison really for? Most people would say it has three purposes: punishment, public safety and rehabilitation. The first two goals seem to be met by the current system. But what about the third? Close to half of all convicted inmates commit new crimes after being released and are back in prison within three years. The high recidivism rate suggests that the current prison model is ineffective, particularly in light of the billions of taxpayer dollars spent on incarceration each year.

Violent crime and teens: Culpable adults or developing juveniles?

Readers have no doubt heard about the most recent incident of school violence to make national news. The incident at a Pennsylvania high school earlier this week differs from other school violence cases in at least two ways.

The first is that the alleged attacker used a knife instead of guns, which is likely why fatalities were avoided. Second, the alleged attacker – a 16-year-old student of small physical stature – did not take his own life during the incident and will now face serious criminal charges. Whenever a teenager is accused of committing violent crime, there is one question that could significantly influence what happens to the defendant if convicted. That question is: Will the defendant be tried as a juvenile or as an adult?

Evidence vs. art: Can violent rap lyrics be taken as confessions?

There have been many cases over the years involving criminals who almost got away with their crimes but were eventually foiled by their own pride. They simply couldn’t help bragging about what they had done.

But what exactly constitutes a confession? This is one of many questions at the heart of a growing debate between prosecutors and civil rights advocates. Over the last couple years alone, there have been more than three dozen prosecutions around the U.S. in which rap lyrics written by amateur artists were used as evidence or otherwise played a prominent role.

Utah teacher pleads not guilty to allegations of raping student

There are many laws in this country that were established in an effort to protect children. Similarly, there are many laws in place that harshly punish those who are accused of harming a child in some way. While most of the time the line between appropriate behavior and inappropriate behavior is clear, there are some situations in which the line may become a little blury. 

For instance, a Utah high school teacher has been accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship with one of her students. According to news reports, the teacher and the 16-year-old student had sex multiple times over the course of several months. It appears, however, that the relationship was consensual. 

U.S. Attorney General seeks sentencing reform for drug crimes

Times are tight, which means that both businesses and the federal government are looking for ways to cut costs. Recently, Attorney General Eric Holder proposed a measure that could save billions of taxpayer dollars per year. More importantly, however, the move would provide some much needed criminal justice reform around the issue of drug crimes.

The United States incarcerates more of its own citizens than any other country in the world. Attorney General Holder recently noted that “although the United States comprises just five percent of the world’s population, we incarcerate almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.” There are currently about 216,000 inmates in federal prison, and nearly half are there because of drug offenses. How much money could we save if we found alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders and decided to shorten unreasonably long sentences for drug crimes?

Proving Ineffective Assistance of Counsel in Utah

criminal appeals

All Utah defendants are guaranteed the right to effective assistance of counsel under the U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment.

It is possible to appeal a Utah conviction if a defendant can show that their attorney provided ineffective assistance during a trial or plea negotiation.

When filing an appeal based on ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must show that his or her attorney performed deficiently and that this deficient performance prejudiced his or her defense.

When is a Utah criminal sentence excessive?


It is somewhat uncommon for a criminal defendant in Utah to receive the maximum sentence for a crime.

Many crimes have the potential to carry lengthy sentences, but defendants routinely receive smaller sentences as a result of plea bargains and judicial discretion.

When multiple crimes are involved, it is possible for sentences to run at the same time (concurrently) or after each other (consecutively.) This means that it is possible for a defendant to spend a total of five years in prison for three five-year convictions, or a total of 15 years in prison for the same convictions.

Mandatory Presumptions vs. Permissive Inferences


A jury instruction can violate a defendant's due process rights when it receives prosecutors of their obligation to prove every essential element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

When reviewing appeals based on jury instructions, appeals courts determine whether a challenged jury instruction created a mandatory presumption or simply allowed a jury to draw a "permissive inference."

Utah Court: Defendant Prejudiced by Jury Instruction

criminal appeals

A Utah appeals court recently overturned the theft conviction of the Utah man, citing an erroneous jury instruction.

The defendant was Joseph Brandon Crowley, who was convicted of receiving stolen property and theft by deception. Investigators say that Crowley pawned an iPod which had been stolen from a car two weeks earlier.

Utah man's conviction vacated on competency grounds

Utah court

Establishing a defendant's competency to stand trial is one of the foundational elements of a valid criminal conviction.

It is well established that Utah law requires that no person who is incompetent be tried for a public offense and that trying an incompetent person constitutes a due process violation.

One Utah man recently had his conviction overturned due to competency issues. The man is Mitchell Edward Wolf and he was convicted of stalking, making a terroristic threat and electronic communication harassment of his ex-partner.

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Greg Smith and Associates, Attorneys & Lawyers, Salt Lake City, UT

Greg Smith & Associates, Criminal Law Attorneys
2150 South 1300 East :: Salt Lake City UT 84106
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Greg Smith & Associates, Criminal Law Attorneys
8813 South Redwood Road C-2 :: West Jordan UT 84088
Telephone: 801-924-4934 :: Fax: 801-255-2134 :: West Jordan Law Office Map :: E-mail the firm

Greg Smith & Associates, Criminal Law Attorneys
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Greg Smith & Associates, Criminal Law Attorneys
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St. George, UT 84790 :: Telephone: 435-773-1511 :: Red Cliffs Office Map :: E-mail the firm

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Richfield Location ::167 North Main Street :: Richfield, UT 84701 ::
Telephone: 435-633-1876

Greg Smith and Associates | Criminal Law Attorneys

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