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.

Watch-Out Fido – Dogs That Move in Danger of Being Shot by Police

A warning for those Utah residents with four legged furry family members, any dogs that move may be in danger of being shot by police.

Geist the dog

Photo by: Jim Bradbury

Photo by: Jim Bradbury

On June 18, 2014 Salt Lake City police officers were searching a Sugar House neighborhood looking for a 3 year old boy who had been reported missing. One officer entered into a latched, fenced yard and encountered a dog instead. The 2 year old Weimaraner dog became startled at the intruder in uniform and ran toward the officer, barking. The officer aimed his weapon and shot the young dog, killing it. The missing child was later found safe and sound at home.

Dogs shot by police

The heartbreaking story of Geist the dog is just one of numerous cases of people’s pets being shot by police even though they were safely secured in their home or yard. One of the most common scenarios in which dogs are shot by police is when officers are executing a search warrant and enter a home without being invited by the residents. Most pets would bark, growl, or even run after someone coming into a house uninvited-especially if they sense their owner’s tensions running high from an unwelcome search warrant.

Photo by: Chris Yarzab

Photo by: Chris Yarzab

Dogs that act like dogs

Regarding the shooting of Geist the dog, a federal judge ruled that the police officer who shot Geist acted appropriately for the circumstances. This same ruling is found often in cases where dogs are shot by police. In December a Michigan couple whose two dogs were shot and killed while retreating to the basement from police was shocked at the federal court ruling. A judge told them if a dog moves or barks, a police officer is allowed to shoot to kill. Any dog who doesn’t bark or move a muscle will not be shot by police; in other words, any dog that doesn’t act like a dog is safe from harm.

Is It Necessary to Hide the Identity of Utah Police Officers Who Use Deadly Force?

A Utah lawmaker has sponsored a bill to temporarily hide the identity of police officers who use deadly force; something that may not only be unnecessary, but could essentially increase public tensions with law enforcement.

Protection from harm or public opinion?

Police Officers Who Use Deadly Force

Photo by: Tony Webster

After several high-profile stories of police brutality hit the media main stream, police officers who use deadly force began to be viewed with skepticism and a rising distrust from the general public. Rep. Mike McKell (R-Utah), who perceives this diminishing public opinion of law enforcement as a threat for the safety of Utah police officers, has issued a bill to keep the names of police involved in officer-related shootings away from the public for up to four months. This fear for the safety of law enforcement personnel of McKell’s is said to stem from recent ambush style assaults on police officers across the country as well as alleged retaliation attacks following national incidents of police brutality and their unjustified use of force.

H.B. 306- Hiding identity of police officers who use deadly force

The bill which was introduced to the house in early February 2017 has been amended to read: “At the discretion of the agency, the officer’s name may not be released to the public by any public official or public employee conducting or participating in an official investigation of an officer-involved critical incident, or any person acting on behalf of a public official or public employee, until the official investigation is concluded.( . . . ) the name of an officer involved in an officer involved critical incident shall be released not later than four months after the incident.” Although common citizens are quick to post, tweet, or otherwise share their distaste and unfriendly views towards police officers who use deadly force, the numbers of officers killed in the line of duty may not support the need to withhold information from the public for the officer’s protection.

Line of duty deaths

Photo by: Rick Portier

Photo by: Rick Portier

According to National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, there were 135 line of duty deaths in 2016. Along with shootings, stabbings, and assault on officers, that number also includes police officers who died due other causes including vehicle accidents and health-related issues such as heart attacks. While 2016 showed a small uptick in officer fatalities since a much larger spike in 2011, the overall number of officers killed in the line of duty has been steadily decreasing since 1974 when officer fatalities hit a 40 year high of 280 deaths. Although the media’s attention regarding attacks on officer has risen, the number of officers actually killed in 2016 was lower than the average deaths of law enforcement in the entire decade prior to last year.

Trust issues

Anyone who reads the newspaper or scans the jail bookings website can view the information of those arrested by the police even before the defendant is officially convicted. It seems only fair that information related to all possible criminal mistakes, including by those in uniform, should also become public knowledge. Law enforcement officials may not enjoy hearing the verbal backlash over decisions they made that could be considered questionable, but many citizens believe they deserve the right to know who was behind the badge that pulled the trigger. Having that information hidden adds a level of doubt and clandestineness that should not be prevalent among those who work in positions of public service. Hiding the identity of police officers who use deadly force could be seen as a sign of guilt and has the potential to further the wariness and increase tension between law enforcement and the people. If law enforcement wants to decrease the strain between police and citizens, transparency is what is needed, not secrecy.