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Protecting the Bill of Rights in Utah since 1958

Death Penalty in Utah: Huge step forward or irritating step backward?

10 February 2016 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

First, the bad news.2f38cb1deead869d8d5984df2f3e3779

Advocates for ending the death penalty in Utah were a bit deflated last week when Rep. Paul Ray’s HB136 passed successfully out of a House committee. HB136 seeks to expand the small group of crimes for which defendants can be sentenced to execution in Utah.

By focusing on the “heinousness” of the crimes (human trafficking that results in death), Rep. Ray dodged the overall realities of the death penalty. Human trafficking is indeed a problem, but the solution is resources, prevention, intervention, sympathy and support for victims.

In practice, the death penalty just doesn’t work, however attractive it may be, philosophically or in theory, to some people. Applying the death penalty is incredibly expensive and it does not deter crime. Death penalty decisions are arbitrary, discriminatory, and infrequent, too. Decisions about who lives and dies dependent upon the skill of the accused’s attorneys, the race of the defendants and of their victim, the defendant’s socioeconomic status and where the crime took place.

Note: Rep. Ray's bill is very likely to receive a full vote on the House Floor THIS WEEK, as soon as tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 11). Take action against this death penalty expansion by contacting your representative.

Utah needs LESS of the death penalty, not more. In that vein, on to the good news!

Senator Steve Urquhart of Saint George revealed this week that he will introduce legislation to repeal the death penalty in Utah!

Sen. Urquhart told the Salt Lake Tribune: "In 2016, you can only be theoretically in support of the death penalty, because it is broken. Even for the most ardent supporter of the death penalty, you gotta question it."

The whole time Rep. Paul Ray was hard at work trying to expand the death penalty...the ACLU of Utah and its coalition partners were working behind the scenes to bring this legislation to fruition. We have high hopes, too, fed by comments like this, from Speaker of the House Greg Hughes, as reported to the Trib:

"I probably have said this more quietly than publicly, but I don't support the death penalty. How do you have a guy who may have killed his wife and unborn child and put her in a mattress and not have the death penalty and have other circumstances where crimes have been committed and you have sentenced them to death. There's an arbitrary feel to it."

Senator Urquhart’s bill is not yet numbered, so we don’t have language to share with you, but we will keep you posted! Be prepared to take action by contacting your elected officials to tell them YOU support ending this ineffective, unjust and expensive practice.