HB84: Bill that would broaden felony murder rule passes in committee

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Highway patrol vehicles park outside the Utah Capitol building. (Savannah Hopkinson)

SALT LAKE CITY — HB84, which would broaden felony murder rule to make fleeing from a police officer a predicate crime, passed 8-3 in the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee Jan. 25.

Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, a driver who does not respond to an officer’s command to stop can be convicted of murder for any death caused as a result of the situation.

Marshall Thompson, director of the Utah Sentencing Commission, said he was concerned about the expansion of the felony murder rule.

“It makes a predicate act for murder something that’s not deliberate in nature,” Thompson said. He said there are several reasons people may not respond to an officer’s signal to stop, like being scared or startled.

“If an accident occurs after that and someone dies, you’d be charged with murder even though you had no intent to commit murder,” Thompson said.

In 2016, West Valley officer Cody Brotherson died when three teenagers who had stolen a car hit him as he tried to stop them from fleeing. Ray said Brotherson was the inspiration for the bill.

William Carlson, a deputy district attorney for Salt Lake County, supports the bill. He cited several other offenses that are already considered predicate crimes, including fleeing as a prisoner and discharge of a firearm. 

“When you get behind the steering wheel, you’re riding a bullet,” Carlson said. “A car can be just as deadly as a gun.”

Tom Ross of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association said chases in Utah have decreased over the past five years, but when they happen they are generally serious.

“Criminals use this as a tool to escape being captured,” Ross said. “There definitely should be an option and a standard there that holds people accountable if they do decide to take that action and somebody dies.”

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