Justice Court v. District Court in Utah

Picture of a courthouse similar to a justice court in Utah.In Utah the adult criminal justice system is divided primarily into two courts, the justice court and the district court. Depending on the level of charge an individual is facing they were either be in the District Court or the Justice Court and there are many similarities between the two but there are three main areas where they are distinct.

Level of Offense

The first thing to consider is what separates justice court criminal charges from district court criminal charges. In Utah all class B misdemeanors, class A misdemeanors and infractions are handled in the justice court. Everything above a class B misdemeanor, so class A misdemeanors and felonies are handled in the district court. Due to this distinction the process of the district court are normally a little more rigid as they are dealing with more serious offenses. In a couple jurisdictions in the state, such as Layton and Bountiful, there are no justice courts and all criminal charges are handled in the district court.

Hearings in Justice Court and District Court

The next thing that separates justice courts from district courts are the types of hearings that are required in the process of a criminal case. In the justice court the procedural history will normally start with an arraignment (which can be waived if you have counsel), and then move right to a pretrial conference before ultimately going to trial. In District Court on the other hand the process starts with an initial appearance (this cannot be waived by counsel), and there is an additional hearing called a preliminary hearing that is not required in justice court proceedings. The preliminary hearing a stage where the prosecutor must show to the court that there is sufficient evidence to continue with the case. The preliminary hearing involves an extremely low burden on the prosecutor and the majority of cases are “bound over” for trial, meaning they move forward with the process until the Defendant either takes a deal or goes to trial.


Finally, the courts differ in how their decisions can be appealed. The justice court is not considered a court of record in Utah which means their decisions can be appealed to the District court as de novo proceedings. What that means is the district court simply starts the entire process over of the case, they are not reviewing the justice courts decision to see if they did everything right they just start fresh. So if an individual is convicted of a crime in the justice court and they file an appeal then the case is moved to the district court and process starts over with a new judge in a new court. In district court, on the other hand, an appeal goes to the court of appeals and they review the case to see if the district court did something wrong, and they do not start the process over, and as such it is not a de novo review.

Ogden Criminal Defense Attorneys

If you are facing criminal charges in either the justice court or the district court then you should call the attorneys at Ogden Criminal Defense for help. Our attorneys work in all levels of court in Northern Utah and we can help protect your rights.

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