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.

Is Using Marijuana For Pain Relief a Safer Alternative Than Opioids?

When someone is battling chronic or acute pain, they are often prescribed addictive opioids when using marijuana for pain relief may be a safer alternative.

Opioid epidemic

6698540291_20f5b96c81_zAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose” and unfortunately, “opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States.” The CDC also stated that “deaths from prescription opioids-drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone-have more than quadrupled since 1999”. This may be due to the fact that “since 1999, the amount of prescription opioids sold in the U.S. nearly quadrupled [even though] there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.“ So why do doctors continue to mass prescribe dangerously addictive and obviously overused opioids to help their patients manage pain?

Marijuana for pain relief

Opioids continue to be used to handle pain because there isn’t much out there that can replace them….legally. Medical marijuana has been tested repeatedly and consistently proves to be beneficial in reducing discomfort for those individuals who struggle with chronic pain. It is also being studied for use in acute pain episodes with positive results. Even though using marijuana for pain relief has been proven to be a successful alternative option that is natural and far safer than opioids, not all U.S. citizens have access to it since several states still consider marijuana an illegal substance. Some states such as Utah go as far to label it a schedule I drug along with methamphetamine and cocaine.

Marijuana use around the nation

Photo by: Satish Krishnamurthy

Photo by: Satish Krishnamurthy

Over the last several years, 26 states as well as Washington D.C. have come to the realization that marijuana isn’t as dangerous as once believed and has proven qualities in fighting chronic and acute pain. Those 26 states and Washington D.C. have all legalized marijuana for medical use. Seven of those states along with D.C. also allow their residents to use marijuana recreationally, just as all states do with alcohol. When will the other states including Utah get on board and legalize marijuana at least for medical use?

Medical marijuana in Utah

There were two bills regarding medical marijuana that Utah lawmakers were working on but unfortunately, only one bill passed and it doesn’t do anything to help those struggling with pain. House Bill 130 that allows medical marijuana to be researched passed the Utah State Legislature, but marijuana has already been researched for medical use; it is time to give pain sufferers in Utah another option besides prescription opioids. Some Utah residents who are frustrated with Utah lawmakers dragging their feet allowing marijuana for pain relief end up taking matters into their own hands. They may cross state lines to take advantage of neighboring states’ leniency towards marijuana only to be busted once they return to Utah with marijuana in their possession or simply in their system. Their attempt to find something else besides opioids to manage pain may land them in jail.

Criminal penalties

Photo by: Victor

Photo by: Victor

Utah law currently prohibits the possession of marijuana and Utah residents are not even allowed to have it in their system when driving. Marijuana metabolites can stay in the system for up to four weeks which makes it impossible for residents to find relief in other states before driving home to Utah. Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana may result in a fine up to $1,000 and the individual charged being incarcerated for up to 6 months.These same charges apply to driving with a measurable amount of marijuana or metabolite of marijuana in the person’s body. Possession of greater quantities or repeat offense may result in greater charges. This may seem unfair for those using marijuana for pain relief, but it is still Utah law.For more information on criminal charges for using marijuana for pain relief, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Interfering with an Arrest in Utah When No Crime Has Been Committed

If a Utah police officer attempts to detain a suspect but a bystander is certain no crime has been committed, it is still recommended to allow officers to proceed to avoid facing possible charges for interfering with an arrest.

Do as you’re told

Photo by: Keith Allison

Photo by: Keith Allison

Law enforcement has been under increased scrutiny lately for many hot button issues such as police brutality and violation of constitutional rights. This has caused a widespread public disregard toward those once respected in uniform. This insolence toward law enforcement may give Utah residents the false notion that they can stand their ground if they feel someone is being arrested without cause. Unfortunately by interfering with an arrest, that person meddling may end up facing charges for their intrusion even if the charges for which they were interfering are dropped or deemed unlawful.

Interfering with an arrest

If an individual refuses to comply with law enforcement or attempts to stop a police officer from making an arrest, they can be charged with resisting arrest, otherwise known by Utah law as interference with arresting officer. Utah Code 76-8-305 states “a person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor if he has knowledge, or by the exercise of reasonable care should have knowledge, that a peace officer is seeking to effect a lawful arrest or detention of that person or another and interferes with the arrest or detention
(1) use of force or any weapon;
(2) the arrested person’s refusal to perform any act required by lawful order:
(a) necessary to effect the arrest or detention; and
(b) made by a peace officer involved in the arrest or detention; or

(3) the arrested person’s or another person’s refusal to refrain from performing any act that would impede the arrest or detention.”

Lawful is irrelevant

Interfering with an arrest

Photo by: Stever Baker

Although the above section states that no one should interfere with a lawful arrest, the world lawful is irrelevant as courts often look at statute’s plain language. For this reason, whether or not an arrest is lawful shouldn’t cause a person to decide that they have the right to get in the middle of police business. According to the State [of Washington] v. Holeman, “The determination of whether an arrest is lawful is often difficult and should not be left to bystanders who may have only a limited knowledge of the relevant law and who may let their emotions control their judgment.”

Acting within the scope of their authority

When it comes to making an arrest, officers are expected only to think they are making a lawful arrest. In the case of American Fork v. Pena-Flores, Nov 16 2000, it states: “Although police must have reasonable suspicion in order to make a legal detention, the use of “lawful” in section 76-8-305 does not automatically incorporate this standard in determining whether a person is guilty of interfering with a peace officer. So long as a police officer is acting within the scope of his or her authority and the detention or arrest has the indicia of being lawful, a person can be guilty of interfering with a peace officer even when the arrest or detention is later determined to be unlawful.”

Know the law

Regardless of what Utah residents feel toward law enforcement, they are not entitled to stop an officer from doing their job. Interfering with an arrest, whether or not it turns out to be lawful, will usually end badly for those trying to rid the world of injustice, one arrest at a time. If someone feels a person was detained unlawfully without reasonable suspicion or if they witnessed extreme use of force by police or a complete disregard for the detainee’s constitutional rights, it is best to file a complaint with the arresting officer’s supervisor. For those who overstepped their place and are facing charges for interfering with an arrest, contact a criminal defense attorney.