Utah Justice: What’s New and What’s Overdue

lawyer reviewing laws

It’s just two months into 2019, but the Utah Criminal Justice System has been working overtime. It has repealed laws that are long overdue and passed a law that can potentially change Utah society.

Streamlining criminal laws is a good thing. However, it would be better if that same effort goes into speeding up trial hearings, which usually involve the services of bail bondsmen in Utah for defendants who can’t pay the full amount of bail.

What’s Good

The Utah Criminal Code has now been updated to 21st century standards. You won’t face criminal charges because of adultery or having relations with the same sex. The provisions removing “offenses against the family” from the criminal code passed as lawmakers approved House Bill 40. The bill passes to the Utah State Senate for approval, but as it passed through the Utah House of Representatives unanimously, it would be highly unlikely that the State Senate would disapprove of the bill.

Adultery laws, cohabitation laws and laws that pertain specifically to homosexual relations haven’t been enforced in decades. In 2003, a Supreme Court decision made all sexual activities between consenting adults legal as long as it’s done in private. This ruling applies to the whole nation, and Utah taking steps to remove it from the State Criminal Code is a step in the right direction.

What’s Bad

At the start of the year, Utah passed legislation lowering the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit down from 0.08% to 0.05%, giving Utah the lowest BAC limit in the nation. The stricter DUI law is meant to curtail, if not eliminate, the incidents of crash fatalities due to alcohol consumption.

lawyer discussing with gavel on table

However, many residents are quite apprehensive, as just a single bottle of beer can be enough to put one over the limit. They see it as the Mormon faith wielding undue influence over state laws. The majority of Utah residents practice the Mormon faith, a faith that forbids the consumption of alcohol, coffee, mood-altering medication or any other substance that can influence mental behavior. Those outside the faith feel particularly targeted. Getting a single drink after work becomes a risky and costly choice, never mind if you’re impeded or not.

What’s Ugly

One aspect of the Utah Justice System that seeds work is in the processing and hearing of various criminal cases. The majority of inmates in Utah prisons haven’t been found guilty. Some of them have ongoing trials while some of them don’t even have a set trial date.

Whether guilty or innocent, these defendants are incarcerated because they’ve failed to cover the enormous amount of bail. Procuring the services of bail bondsmen would have made covering the cost of bail possible for some, but most inmates are unaware of such services. The slow crawl of the justice system has led to a rise in prison population and the ensuing problems caused by overpopulation.

Old laws are out, and new laws are in. However, Utah still needs to fast-track criminal proceedings, make sure appropriate bail amounts are set and find alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders.