The death penalty in Utah survived another challenge to abolish it during this year’s legislative session — with lawmakers instead adding to the list of crimes eligible for capital punishment.
A bill that would have prohibited Utah prosecutors from seeking executions after a May deadline didn’t gain enough traction this year with Utah lawmakers, despite the support of conservatives like House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper.
But lawmakers did vote to increase the list of crimes eligible for the death penalty, passing a bill that enhances the penalty for killing private security officers and various first responders.
Some raised concern in committee hearings that by adding yet another death penalty-eligible crime, a court challenge could torpedo the law for being too broad.
Utah currently has over 60 aggravating factors that could lead to a death sentence. While high courts in other states have ruled on whether death penalty laws are too broad, the Utah Supreme Court has not taken up that issue.
Legislators also considered a bill that would have requested a more in-depth study of the costs of the death penalty in Utah versus a sentence of life-without-parole, but the bill never received a final vote in the Senate before Thursday’s midnight deadline.
Lawmakers debated a number of bills that would toughen criminal penalties in several areas, but few will become law.
Failed efforts included a bill that would have allowed prosecutors to file charges against a 15-year-old in adult court in the death of a police officer, and a bill that would have brought more serious penalties to people who kill someone while fleeing from police. A bill that would have allowed prosecutors to charge drugs dealers with homicide when customers die from an overdose also failed.
Legislators approved a bill that criminalizes helping someone commit suicide, adding assisted suicide to Utah’s manslaughter statute. The crime is a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
And responding to a troubling spike in jail inmate deaths from suicide and medical conditions, Utah lawmakers passed a bill this session that would require counties and the Utah State Prison to report in-custody deaths to the state’s Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice. They also would report their lists of allowed medications and plans for treating inmates who are addicted to opiates when they are arrested.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said his plan is to review that data and develop new statewide detention policies.