Do Sex Crimes Receive Too Harsh of Punishments in Utah?

Utah is known for being too tough on many crimes such as drugs, yet few question whether or not other offenses such as sex crimes are receiving harsh punishments as well.

Leniency for some, not for others

Photo by: eflon

Photo by: eflon

Utah is making strides to reduce the penalties for offenses such as drug possession, yet those arrested for sex crimes can usually expect to receive exceptionally harsh punishments with no public outcry for leniency. Sex offenders receive no mercy in court, and everyone seems happy to lock them up and throw away the key. Although sex crimes are very serious charges and should carry punishments, there are some things to consider before locking offenders away for life.

Prison population

One of the reasons House Bill 348 was signed was to help decrease the prison population by reducing the number of drug offenders taking up room. While those arrested for drug crimes have faced unfair punishments, the prison population won’t necessarily decrease with the drug offenders gone. Instead the prisons will be filled to capacity with those serving lengthy sentences for murder or sex crimes. According to the Utah Department of Corrections (UDC), “Nearly one-third of the inmates in Utah’s prison system are serving time for a sexual offense.” This number of sex offenders in prison has been increasing and will continue to do so until the prisons are at full capacity; then what?

Mandatory prison sentences for sex crimes

Photo by: Chris Potter

Photo by: Chris Potter

While everyone else is getting out early or having reduced sentences to start, those in prison for sex crimes will be there for an extended length of time. A person with no previous criminal record that is convicted of a sex crime will spend anywhere from 5 years to life in prison. Utah Code 76-3-406 adds regarding those charged with sex crimes ranging from aggravated sexual assault to rape, “probation shall not be granted, the execution or imposition of sentence shall not be suspended, the court shall not enter a judgment for a lower category of offense, and hospitalization shall not be ordered, the effect of which would in any way shorten the prison sentence for any person who commits a capital felony or a first degree felony [of various sex crimes]”. In other words, they can go to prison and stay there.

Lack of treatment programs

While many sex offenders wait out their lengthy prison sentences, most will not be able to partake in the much needed Sex Offender Treatment Program to help them “control urges and impulses” as the UDC aims to do to help rehabilitate them. While the State of Utah will dish out millions to house inmates imprisoned for sex crimes, they are not increasing funding for the sex offender programs that will help treat these inmates by giving them the therapeutic and behavioral support they need. In fact:

• According to a briefing by the Utah State Legislature in 2011, “the last new funding for prison sex offender treatment programming was in 1996” twenty years ago!

• At that time of that briefing, the Utah State legislature stated “the department of corrections [was] funded for approximately 250 sex offender treatment slots” but had nearly 2,000 offenders who were incarcerated for sex crimes. The number of sex offenders has increased in five years, with treatment remaining stagnant.

• While not outwardly stating so, sex offender treatment may in fact be decreasing or as UDC called “a demand coupled with a lack of resources”. In October of 2015, the Special Services Dormitory which housed inmates who were “awaiting or undergoing sex offender treatment” was closed because of staffing issues. The inmates were then absorbed back into the general inmate population with a lower chance of receiving treatment.

The one-third of Utah’s prison population that consists of those convicted of sex crimes are not getting the help they need to be rehabilitated when their far distant release date nears. They are practically set up to fail.

Low recidivism rate

Arrested for Sex Crimes

Photo by: Office of Public Affairs

Even with the odds against them, those mostly first time offenders convicted of sex crimes have a surprisingly low recidivism rate. The Sex Offender Treatment Report 2010 stated that 43% of sex offender parolees returned to jail within a year. 87% of those returning to jail did so because of “technical violations of the conditions of parole, not new criminal behavior.” Only 12.3% returned for committing another crime. While the recidivism rate for sex offenders is already low, graduation from a treatment program dropped that recidivism rate even lower. Those that graduation from a Sex Offender Treatment Program only had a recidivism rate of 19.5%; 26% lower than those who didn’t complete treatment. The majority of those returning were also rearrested for simple technical violations of their parole.

Treatment and parole most effective

While many Utah residents wish to see those convicted of sex crimes spend a lifetime in jail, there are other options such as treatment and parole that are proven to be more effective. By reducing penalties and sentencing while in turn increasing funding for the Sex Offender Treatment Program, taxpayers will end up saving millions in the long run and Utah prisons will not become overrun by those serving life sentences for first time sex crimes.

Avoid Dead Time – Receive Credit for Time Served

When a defendant spends time in a Utah jail prior to conviction, they will want to avoid this duration becoming dead time and ensure they receive credit for time served.

Waiting game

Photo by: Santi Villamarín

Photo by: Santi Villamarín

Sometimes the time between being arrested and being convicted can drag on, leaving the defendant waiting in jail for their time in court. Sometimes this is due to the defendant either not being allowed out on bail or being unable to afford it. Although the state has to file charges within a determined amount of time, things may take longer especially if the case goes to trial. Additionally, if the right to a speedy trial has been waived, this can add more time to the wait.

Credit for time served

Whatever the reason is for having an extended wait time in jail before sentencing, that time spent behind bars should count for something. Credit for time served is time that is taken off of a sentence because of time spent in jail prior to the hearing. For instance, if someone spends three months in jail prior to their hearing and is then sentenced to a year in jail, they can receive the three month credit for time served, reducing their jail time down to nine months from that point.

Make sure it counts

Time Served

Photo by: Neil Conway

If a defendant finds themselves spending time in jail while awaiting a sentencing hearing, they need to confirm that their attorney requests the judge to issue credit for time served. While this should be a given, occasionally this topic can be missed, especially by an overworked court appointed public defender or by a Utah judge who may simply overlook signing off on it. A qualified criminal defense attorney will ensure that credit for time served is received and that no time behind bars is wasted.

Utah Ex-Con Charged with Gruesome Murder in Washington

An ex-con who had served time in a Utah State Prison was charged with the gruesome murder of a Washington State woman last Monday.

Murder and dismemberment

murder

Photo by: tdlucas5000

37 year old John Robert Charlton was charged with the murder of Ingrid Lyne of Renton, Washington after police discovered portions of the woman’s dismembered body in a recycle bin in Seattle. The 40 year old nurse and mother of three daughters had been on a date with Charlton to a Mariner’s baseball game over the weekend but hadn’t been heard of since. When police located the body parts including a head and then received information of the missing woman, they realized the cases were connected and arrested Charlton for murder. More of Lyne’s body parts were then located as well as a saw which was believed to be the tool used to dismember her body.

Was the murder preventable?

When a horrible act is committed, many people may wonder if there was any way the crime could have been prevented. Sometimes crimes catch everyone by surprise, even those closest to the accused. Regarding the murder of Ingrid Lyne however, there are various details in John Charlton’s past that may have been red flags. While these warnings were regrettably not known to Lyne, they might have been recognized by law enforcement and those who have had their own personal dealings with Charlton.

Criminal history

Photo by: Victor

Photo by: Victor

The murder of Ingrid Lyne wasn’t Charlton’s first run in with the law. Prior to Lyne’s murder, in Washington State Charlton had been charged with assault in 1997 and negligent driving in 1998. In 2006, Charlton was convicted and sentenced to 1 to 15 years in the Utah State Prison for felony attempted aggravated robbery. Of that sentence, Charlton served just shy of 2 years before he was released by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole without the supervision of parole officer. Some claim this lack of supervision may have contributed to him being arrested again in 2009 for misdemeanor battery in Idaho and then felony theft in Montana the same year. In Montana he again served time in prison; this time no more than 5 years. There is no information available at this time regarding whether or not Charlton was under the supervision of a Montana parole officer; however some critics of the parole system are doubtful.

Mental uncertainty

Charlton not only had a history of crime, but he also showed signs of being mentally unstable and possibly dangerous as long as 10 years ago. Prior to his arrest in Utah in 2006, Charlton made unsettling threats to his parents at their home south of Seattle. He showed them a copy of the gruesome movie “Hannibal” and eerily cautioned his mom while referencing to it. He also told his parents that he was having a hard time dealing with life and he was questioning his mental stability. Charlton’s parents were so troubled by this encounter with their son that they went as far as to file a restraining order against him although they later dropped it.

Help for the troubled

Photo by: trizoultro

Photo by: trizoultro

While the thought is plausible, it will never be known for sure if the murder of Ingrid Lyne could have been prevented. While many friends or family members may be surprised when someone close to them commits a heinous act, this is one case when there was a growing concern long before multiple lives were changed forever. For those who are in and out of the court systems for various crimes or for those who have anger management issues, alcohol and drug abuse problems, or other mental health concerns, there is help available. Please seek counsel with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney regarding criminal charges and they can also provide you with information regarding mental health services in your area.