Monday, August 15, 2016 | One comment

Creating Crime in Utah

By Josh Daniels

Each year bills passed by the legislature have the potential of creating new, or altering existing, crimes and the penalties associated with them. In an age when government policy can result in criminalizing everything from unlicensed lemonade stands to catching the wrong lobster, it is important that we pay careful attention to the bills passed by the legislature to ensure that they are not inadvertently criminalizing conduct that is not truly criminal. A few years ago we covered this issue in depth.

In Utah, the legislature passes nearly 500 bills each year. On average, about 50 of these (10%) deal with criminal laws or processes and 20 of those have a potential impact on criminal penalties. Since 2008, 455 bills have passed the legislature dealing with criminal laws with 193 of those creating new, or altering existing, criminal laws. In Utah, there are over 10,000 criminal laws you can be charged with (many of them are repetitive for each local jurisdiction). To find a master list of each potential criminal offense you can be charged with you can refer to the state’s Master Offense Table.

The Utah Sentencing Commission tracks bills that may impact sentencing and criminal penalties each year. We have compiled these reports into one cumulative listing since 2008 for easy reference. While a variety of legislators sponsor these bills, some legislators sponsor more than average. Many of these legislators also serve on either the Judiciary or Law Enforcement Committees.

Here are the top legislative sponsors for criminal justice related bills since 2012:

Most criminal justice bills:

Rank Legislator Bills
1 Sen. Thatcher 13
2 Rep. Ray 12
3 Sen. Bramble 12
4 Sen. Hillyard 11
5 Rep. Hutchings 10
6 Sen. Weiler 9
7 Rep. Seelig 7
8 Rep. Hall 7

Most bills with felony changes:

Rank Legislator Bills
1 Sen. Thatcher 5
2 Sen. Hillyard 2
3 Rep. Seelig 2
4 Rep. Greenwood 2
5 Rep. Powell 2

Most bills with misdemeanor changes:

Rank Legislator Bills
1 Rep. Ray 5
2 Sen. Weiler 4
3 Sen. Mayne 4
4 Sen. Thatcher 3
5 Rep. Seelig 3
6 Rep. Powell 3
7 Rep. Dunnigan 3
8 Sen. Urquhart 3
9 Sen. Bramble 3

In 2015, the legislature overhauled many criminal statutes in an effort to ensure fewer admissions and stays in prison and to reinvest savings on treatment and rehabilitation instead. We applaud this effort to be smart on crime and believe that taxpayer dollars should not be wasted on senseless over-criminalization.

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About the Author

Josh Daniels is a policy advisor for the Libertas Institute. He graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from Brigham Young University and with a J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center. Previously, he worked for three years as an aide to US Congressman Pete Olson and served for eight years in the United States Marine Corps.


1 comments
HansenMarlin
HansenMarlin

Josh, not to nitpick, but the backstory of the 'catching the wrong lobster' seems legit.  I'm pointing this out only because using an example like this, that has some legitimacy when examined further, only serves to undermine the point you are trying to make.

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