Over-criminalization is a plague that has spread across the country, including Utah. With over 10,000 laws and new ones being passed every year, there comes a point when the criminal code needs to be reexamined.
Back in 2016, Senator Daniel Thatcher led an effort to eliminate the consequence of jail time on a number of silly Class C misdemeanor offenses. Both he and Libertas Institute expressed interest in carrying the fight to Class B misdemeanors.
Two bills resulted from those discussions: Senate Bill 20, and Senate Bill 180. SB 20 not only reduces many misdemeanors down to an infraction, but also addresses one of the chief causes of a bloated amount of misdemeanor offenses.
When a city passes a new ordinance defining something as illegal conduct, they often don’t specify the level of the offense. Instead it is automatically classified as a class B misdemeanor. Senator Thatcher’s bill eliminated that issue by instead classifying these and future offenses as infractions. If a city wants to specify a stricter classification, they can do so, but they need to take the time to determine if that is appropriate and then explicitly do so, rather than have it be set by default.
SB 180 ended up targeting three specific class B misdemeanors and reduced them down to an infraction (including holding a raccoon). The bill was originally introduced to target more than just three, but prosecutors and law enforcement pushed back. This will continue to be an issue that both Senator Thatcher and Libertas will work on in future years.
For now, Utahns can be assured that cities will no longer be introducing new class B misdemeanors en masse. This, along with preventing city code enforcers from issuing citations with criminal consequences, will help prevent situations like what happened to this Orem woman from happening again.