New Bill Increases Penalties for Targeting a Police Officer in Utah

A new bill that increases penalties for targeting a police officer has passed the House and Senate, leaving it awaiting a signature from Utah’s governor.

Crimes against law enforcement

Photo by: David Robert Bliwas

Photo by: David Robert Bliwas

There have been numerous stories in the news lately of police officers being targeted and then injured or killed based solely on their profession. Many of these crimes against police are said to stem from the public view of law enforcement turning sour following increased occurrences of police brutality. While the instances of police brutality that have angered the public are inexcusable, so is killing or injuring a police officer just because of their job choice. This increase of danger to law enforcement is what was on the mind of Utah lawmakers when House Bill 433 was drafted.

HB433- death for cop killers?

House Bill 433 was originally intended by Representative Paul Ray, R-Clearfield to extensively punish those convicted of targeting a police officer while labeling the condemned person as a terrorist. His goal was apparently to increase penalties for those convicted and have the death penalty be a mandatory sentence for if the targeted law enforcement officer is killed. This “blue lives matter more than other lives” bill needed a few revisions such as removing the required death sentence penalty for cop killers, but has eventually been tweaked enough to make its way through the House and Senate.

Targeting a police officer – defined

Targeting a Police Officer

Photo by: BaronneVonR

The new revised HB433 has taken a step back a notch to allow prosecutors, judges, and juries to continue to be the ones responsible for deciding whether or not to seek the death penalty for cop killers. It also removes the “terrorist” label from those convicted. It now “defines [what exactly it means by] ‘targeting a law enforcement officer’’. This definition is in the new section of Utah Code (76-5-210) included in the bill. This code states: “”Targeting a law enforcement officer” means the commission of any offense involving the unlawful use of force and violence against a law enforcement officer, causing serious bodily injury or death in furtherance of political or social objectives in order to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence or affect the conduct of a government or a unit of government.”

Aggravated murder

HB433 also “adds targeting a law enforcement officer to the aggravating factors for aggravated murder”. Previously, aggravated murder charges were saved for those who committed homicide under serious circumstances defined in Utah Code 76-5-202 such as: if multiple homicides occur together; a homicide that takes place after or during an episode of another heinous offense such as rape or kidnapping; a homicide that is done for payment; homicide committed by someone in custody or someone trying to escape custody; or a homicide committed by a person previously convicted of a serious offense. This section also previously stated that aggravated murder charges would ensue if the homicide victim was a public official or a police officer. HB433 redundantly added that aggravated murder charges would result if the actor committing homicide did so while targeting a police officer.

First degree aggravated assault

Photo by: marina

Photo by: marina

One big change made in HB433 that may have been missed among the superfluous information added to other sections is the changes made to Utah’s aggravated assault penalties. Utah Code 76-5-103 defines other aggravated assault behavior as conduct “that is:

(i)an attempt, with unlawful force or violence, to do bodily injury to another;

(ii) a threat, accompanied by a show of immediate force or violence, to do bodily injury to another; or

(iii) an act, committed with unlawful force or violence, that causes bodily injury to another or creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another; and

(b) that includes the use of:

(i) a dangerous weapon as defined in Section 76-1-601; or

(ii) other means or force likely to produce death or serious bodily injury.”

Utah Code 76-5-103 also lists the penalties for aggravated assault as a third degree felony or a second degree felony if serious bodily injury occurs to the victim. Once HB433 is signed by Governor Herbert, it will add targeting a police officer to this section of Utah Code and “[make] aggravated assault a first degree felony if a law enforcement officer is targeted.” Someone who is convicted of targeting a police officer and seriously injuring said officer could face up to life in prison because their target was a cop. Maybe blue lives really do matter more.

For more information on upcoming changes to Utah law and how it can affect your case, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Aggravated Assault for Defending Home from Intruder

A Salt Lake City man was arrested for aggravated assault for defending his aging mother-in-law’s vacation home from an intruder.

The stake out

Photo by: Mesa Tactical

Photo by: Mesa Tactical

51 year old Glen Decker and his wife are caretakers of his mother-in-law’s home in Salt Lake City which is used mainly for vacationing. Upon regular inspection of the home, the Decker’s realized that someone had been breaking into the residence. To put a stop to the burglary, the vigilantes armed themselves and hid out in the dark unlocked home; hoping to catch the thieves red-handed.

Bait, set, trap

The potential repeat offenders took the bait of an apparently vacant home and let themselves in unlawfully, only to be confronted by the Decker’s waiting inside. With a gun in hand, Glen Decker ordered the two thieves to stay put until police arrived. The female suspect complied, while the male suspect decided to make a run for it instead. As the intruder tried to flee the home, Decker shot him once in the abdomen. The chase continued outside the home as the runaway burglar made it to his get-away car only to have the vehicle shot at multiple times by Decker. The suspect later checked himself into the hospital in serious condition for a single gunshot wound to the stomach and Glen Decker was arrested for aggravated assault and weapons charges.

Stand, not chase

Photo by: Elliott Brown

Photo by: Elliott Brown

Utah has a stand your ground law detailed in Utah Code 76-2-402 allowing residents to protect themselves or others from danger by using deadly force if needed. What some may not realize is this does not give permission to be confrontational. The stand your ground law only applies if “the person reasonably believes that force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury”. If a suspect is not posing an immediate threat, there is no justification in using deadly force; stand your ground laws would likely not apply for someone who is chasing an unarmed party.

La casa de mi familia

While Utah may not encourage residents to chase and shoot persons who are committing a non-violent crime, there are laws allowing homeowners (and possibly caretakers) to protect their place of residence from intruders. This is known as Castle Doctrine. Utah’s version of Castle Doctrine is found in Utah Code 76-2-405 which discusses “force in defense of habitation”. This law has certain stipulations that must apply in order to use potential deadly force in defending a home. The resident must believe that force is necessary to prevent a violent intruder or to “prevent the commission of [a] felony” in the home. Also, “the person using force or deadly force in defense of habitation is presumed ( . . . ) to have acted reasonably and had a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury ( . . . )”.

Aggravated assault

Aggravated Assault

Photo by: Chris Heald

Granted breaking and entering is against the law, it does not allow a person to detain a suspect with physical force or violence. If a violent intruder tries to enter your home, stop them; if they attempt to retreat, let them. It is not up to everyday residents to take the law into their own hands unless they feel they are in danger. When someone’s actions have the potential to cause unnecessary serious bodily harm or death, that person may face charges of aggravated assault. Someone found guilty of aggravated assault faces the same penalties as the individual facing burglary charges. Both are considered third degree felonies punishable by up to five years and prison and a possible fine of $5,000. Anyone facing charges stemming from an attempt to stop an intruder should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to avoid serving time behind bars with the burglar.

Multiple Felony Charges of Domestic Violence in the Presence of a Child

A Payson Utah man is facing multiple felony charges of domestic violence in the presence of a child following an assault on a woman in front on her children.

911 hang-up call

Photo by: Philippe Put

Photo by: Philippe Put

Police were dispatched to a Payson Utah home after a 911 hang-up call. The emergency dispatcher who received the call stated that although it was brief, they could hear a distraught woman screaming and shouting in the background. When police arrived, one of the children opened the door and officers found their mother bruised and bleeding from a large laceration to her head.

Wrong use of a kitchen utensil

36 year old Aaron Garcia, a former mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter was arrested for charges including aggravated assault after the woman stated Garcia hit her on the head with a wooden rolling pin. Garcia had been drinking heavily prior to the assault and was unable to recall details of what prevailed that evening besides that he was getting cross with the woman throughout the day. After searching the home, a wooden rolling pin was located, bloody and broken. Garcia is facing five third degree felonies following the assault at the Payson home, each with a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and $5,000 fine.

Domestic violence

Photo by: Nari Sin

Photo by: Nari Sin

One of the charges against Garcia is for the aggravated assault on the woman which is also considered domestic violence, although an additional charge for that specifically was not issued. Domestic violence is thought to take place between spouses; however it can be any violent behavior between multiple occupants of the same living environment. It was not reported what relationship Garcia had to the woman he assaulted. All that is known at this time is that Garcia and the woman were both residents of the same address. There is a possibility that Garcia was the woman’s spouse, yet he could have also been a live in boyfriend or just a roommate.

Domestic violence in the presence of a child

Although Garcia wasn’t charged with domestic violence for his assault on his cohabitant, his other four third degree felonies came from charges of domestic violence in the presence of a child because there were children present during the attack. Utah Code 76-5-109.1 states “A person commits domestic violence in the presence of a child if the person: ( . . . ) intentionally causes serious bodily injury to a cohabitant or uses a dangerous weapon [like a rolling pin] or other means or force likely to produce death or serious bodily injury against a cohabitant in the presence of a child.”

One charge per child present

Domestic violence in the presence of a child

Photo by: Natesh Ramasamy

Although there was only one assault in question, Garcia is facing four charges of domestic violence in the presence of a child likely due the fact that there were four children home when the violence took place. Utah Code 76-5-109.1(5) explains when a person violates the above section “when more than one child is present [they are] guilty of one offense of domestic violence in the presence of a child regarding each child present when the violation occurred.”

Consecutive vs concurrent

When someone is charged with a crime, they may not seek legal counsel if they assume the prosecution has a rock solid case. However, there are other important reasons to be represented by an attorney. When someone is facing multiple offenses, if they are found guilty the judge can decide whether the sentences are to be run consecutively or concurrently. Consecutive sentences are served one after another; in Garcia’s case that would equal up to 25 years in prison. Concurrent sentences are all served at the same time; for Garcia, that would mean no more than five years for all charges combined. If anyone is facing charges for multiple offenses, speak with an attorney to find out options for defending the charges or at least reducing the prison terms.