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.

First Degree Aggravated Arson for Setting Own Apartment on Fire

A Utah man is facing charges for first degree aggravated arson as well as attempted murder for setting his own apartment on fire.

Paranoia unhinged

First Degree Aggravated Arson

Photo by: Denis Dervisevic

Kyle Stinson of West Valley City started a fire in his apartment earlier this month in what was found to be a disturbed and irrational attempt to protect himself from a neighbor. Police determined that Stinson’s neighbor posed no threat whatsoever. Stinson however was found to be the one causing danger as he started a fire in an occupied building and also tried to tie the door of his neighbor shut so they could not escape the apartment complex. Stinson faces charges of first degree aggravated arson and attempted murder.

First degree aggravated arson

Even though the only part of the building damaged was Stinson’s own apartment, Utah Code 76-6-103 states “A person is guilty of aggravated arson if by means of fire or explosives he intentionally and unlawfully damages:

a) A habitable structure; or

b) Any structure or vehicle when any person not a participant in the offense is in the structure or vehicle.”

Additionally, since he tried to tie his neighbor’s door closed after he set his apartment on fire, he is also facing attempted murder. Both charges that Stinson is facing are first degree felonies, each with possible prison terms of five years to life in prison and fines of up to $10,000.

Questionable mental health

Photo by: Mike H

Photo by: Mike H

Since police were not able to find any justification to Stinson’s fears of being harmed by his neighbor, Stinson’s mental health should be questioned. Paranoia to the degree that Stinson’s was suffering from could be caused from drug use, but may have also resulted from an unchecked mental illness. Unfortunately, instead of seeking help for his apparent neurotic disorder or even requesting aid from law enforcement when he thought he was in danger, Stinson took matters into his own hands and now could spend the rest of his life in jail. For those who are facing charges such as first degree aggravated arson or other serious felonies and feel that they were not in their right state of mind during the offense, it is recommended to speak with a qualified 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.