Utahns can now search public court records from home more easily, and the state lawmaker behind the effort hopes this will help residents vet the people they meet on dating apps.
Last year, the Utah Legislature passed HB249, expanding access to Xchange, the state’s online public court system. Previously, users had to pay for a more expensive monthly subscription to see the records online.
Now, Utahns can create a guest account at xchange.utcourts.gov by paying $5, which goes toward searches (20 cents) and documents (50 cents).
There is no limit on how many times a person can pay the $5 fee, according to Tania Mashburn, spokesperson for Utah State Courts. And if you don’t create a username and password, you will lose any unused credits after your session ends.
With this expanded service, which launched Jan. 29, Utahns can access the same public cases and information available through the monthly subscription. People can also still go to a courthouse in person and look up cases for free.
The $5 fee is not meant to create a profit for the courts, Michael Drechsel, assistant state court administrator, previously said. Rather, it would cover the maintenance costs of more people accessing the system and customer service help for one-time users, such as when people have trouble signing up or their transactions don’t go through, he said.
Lara Wilson testified in support of the bill last year, telling state lawmakers that when she met her now-ex-boyfriend on a dating app in 2016, he seemed “perfect.” It wasn’t until he started physically hurting her, Wilson said, that she learned about his previous domestic violence conviction.
“There needs to be a way for the public to protect themselves from this threat,” she said. “If I had known my ex-boyfriend’s violent history, I would not have dated him, and I would not have suffered the abuse that I did” and “have to rebuild my life.”
Using a database of roughly 8,000 rape cases from across the state, Julie Valentine — who is associate dean of undergraduate studies and research at Brigham Young University’s College of Nursing and a member of Wasatch Forensic Nurses — and her research team identified 202 cases between 2017 and 2019 where a rape was reported to have occurred the first time people met after talking on a dating app.
In these cases, victims were more likely to be strangled, have more severe injuries, be around the age of college students and self-disclose a mental illness, according to Valentine. Victims were also more likely to be male in dating app-facilitated rapes than in Valentine’s broader database.
Sponsor Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, previously said that he hoped his bill would offer “a small and simple solution to a scourge in our society.”
Steven Burton, a practicing criminal defense attorney, told lawmakers last year about his worries of “unintended consequences.”
Access would be far broader than domestic violence convictions, he said, and searchers may see new charges and assume they mean someone is guilty. This inexpensive, widespread digital access could also undermine people’s efforts to expunge their records, according to Burton.
The bill ultimately passed the House and Senate before being signed into law by the governor.
Editor’s note • Those who are experiencing intimate partner violence, or know someone who is, are urged to call the Utah Domestic Violence Link Line, 1-800-897-LINK (5465), or the Utah Rape and Sexual Assault Crisis Line, 1-888-421-1100.
Becky Jacobs is a Report for America corps member and writes about the status of women in Utah for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.