This article was first published in the Liberty Reporter: 2015 Fall Newsletter >>
The 2016 Legislative session is just around the corner, and the ACLU of Utah anticipates another fast-paced seven weeks on the Hill, safeguarding your civil liberties! Criminal justice issues are likely to dominate our agenda, including legislative proposals dealing with police body cameras, housing for people transitioning out of the criminal justice system, and reforming Utah’s system of indigent defense, among others.
Due to high profile police encounters across the nation, the interest in police body cameras has exploded. This is true in Utah as well, as many law enforcement agencies are already using or exploring the use of on-body cameras. Cameras have the potential to be a win-win, helping protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time helping protect police against false accusations of abuse. But there are also serious privacy considerations that must be taken into account when drafting policies to govern the use of such cameras. The ACLU of Utah worked with partners such as the Libertas Institute and the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to draft a statewide policy for body cameras during the 2015 session. Though that bill failed to advance, the conversations surrounding the particulars of this policy have continued. This session we anticipate, and will be involved in, the introduction of legislation that addresses both the requirements law enforcement agencies must abide by in using on-body cameras, as well as the rules for retention and disclosure of video footage. We will work towards striking the right balance between accountability and transparency while preserving the privacy rights of people in their homes and in other places where an expectation of privacy exists.
Good Landlord Program
“Good landlord programs” are city-level programs, governed by state statute. They offer financial incentives for landlords and property owners to participate in trainings and comply with requirements such as checking the criminal background of any potential tenant; prohibiting individuals with a criminal record within the last four years from living in a rental property; and evicting any individual (as well as family members) if they are arrested by the police. Unfortunately, aspects of this program leave many people transitioning out of the criminal justice system with no where to live while trying to restart their lives in a productive fashion. During the 2015 legislative session, we teamed up with Rep. Brian King to introduce a bill that would end this practice. We ran out of time to pass the bill, but our effort gathered many supporters. We spent the summer meeting with various stakeholders, including the Department of Corrections, the Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, and the League of Cities and Towns, to discuss ways in which the Good Landlord Program can be reformed to remove incentives to discriminate against those with criminal records. We are optimistic that our goal to achieve this legislation will be successful this year!
The ACLU of Utah has long decried the state of indigent defense in Utah. We issued a report in 2011 documenting that Utah falls short of its constitutional obligations in providing legal counsel to those criminal defendants who cannot afford an attorney. In the four years since that report was issued, although study has been undertaken, no major policy changes have been implemented to address this pressing crisis. We expect legislation will finally be introduced in the 2016 session to address this issue, and will work with stakeholders and policy makers to urge that the legislation include proper funding and guidelines and oversight to ensure that the 6th Amendment’s guarantees are realized for all people in Utah.