How new legislation will affect crime in Utah

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Rick Bowmer
Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, looks on during a vote on the House floor at the Utah State Capitol Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Salt Lake City. Utah lawmakers aim to power through several hundred bills and finalize a budget before wrapping up their 45-day legislative session. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Utah legislators passed about a dozen bills that affect how crime is handled throughout the state during the 2017 Legislative Session.

Judges given room for discretion in sex crime cases

HB222 gives judges discretion in sentencing child sex offenders.

In 2008, Utah adopted “Jessica’s Law“, legislation that started in Florida in 2005 after the rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. Jessica’s Law increased monitoring and punishment of child sex offenders, including implementing a mandatory sentence of at least 25 years.

A woman approached Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, about the mandatory minimum sentence after her son was charged with raping a child about a year ago. He was 18 when he had a consensual sexual encounter with a 13-year-old.

A minor can’t legally give consent until age 14, so the 18-year-old was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Handy said the sentence in this case was in no one’s best interest and sponsored a bill that gave judges room to impose a lesser sentence if they see fit.

“An 18-year-old young man who did a stupid thing is not the same as a 45-year-old pedophile and sexual predator,” Handy said.

Victims no longer have to renew stalking charges

SB226 allows a charge of permanent stalking injunction that will remain in place indefinitely.

Before this bill, stalking charges were temporary, usually lasting only 12 to 18 months, according to the bill sponsor Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.

Weiler said he hopes SB226 will spare victims from unneeded emotional trauma every year.

Rick Bowmer
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, sits on the Senate floor at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. Thatcher sponsored bills to strengthen the state’s hate crimes law and add protections for gay and transgender people. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Sexual offenders can no longer use voluntary intoxication as a defense

Before HB139, voluntary intoxication was grounds for a ‘not guilty’ plea for sexual offenses.

According to Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, the landscape of intoxication has changed. In response, HB139 reverses legislation giving sex offenders protection from charges if they were voluntarily intoxicated during the incident.

Stratton said this bill is course correction that will allow jury members to act according to their conscience based on the evidence provided.

“I think it will help the victims have more confidence that appropriate remedies will be acknowledged,” Stratton said.

Other bills this session touched on budget, expungement, cyber crime, assault, sexual assault involving HIV or hepatitis and the creation of a master list of offenses, among others.

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