2022 Bills

HB 147: Repeal and Replace the Death Penalty

This bill did not receive a vote. 

Libertas Institute supports this bill

Staff review of this legislation finds that it aligns with our principles and should therefore be passed into law.

Though long supported by some, the “death penalty” (legalized execution of criminals) has many flaws:

  • It is not a deterrent; states without the death penalty actually have a lower murder rate;
  • The death penalty is a counterfeit promise; because of lengthy, court-mandated appeals (to ensure due process since the state is seeking to end a life), prosecutors tell victim family members they will have justice when the defendant is dead, only to see them live on for decades — and be glorified in media surrounding each public appeal;
  • Innocent people have been sentenced to death and actually executed;
  • Life without parole is a sort of death penalty (ending someone’s public life) that reduces the cost to taxpayers, prevents innocent people from being executed, and spares victim family members the attention and contention that comes from the death penalty’s very public appeal process;
  • Taxpayers are compelled to pay a significant cost to support a system that often seeks the death penalty but rarely administers it; in Utah, $40 million was spent in the last two decades only to see two new death sentences handed down.

In response to these and other concerns, Representative Lowry Snow has sponsored House Bill 147, which would “repeal and replace” the death penalty in Utah. Rep. Snow’s own views on the death penalty were greatly influenced by Sharon Weeks, a constituent in his district whose sister and niece were killed by Ron and Dan Lafferty. These much-publicized murders led to decades of harm to Sharon and her family due to all the appeals Ron went through, and the constant re-opening of wounds that couldn’t heal.

This ordeal is starkly contrasted against the experience with Dan who, unlike his brother Ron, was sentenced to life without parole. Dan was locked up for life without the possibility of parole, and Sharon and her family were told justice was served — and they believed it. But prosecutors told them that justice for Ron would be the death penalty, and they also believed that. But the family was denied what they were told justice would be; Ron died in late 2019 in prison of old age.

Past efforts in Utah have revolved around simply repealing the death penalty. HB 147 takes a different approach, borne out of an attempt to find the “Utah way” and solve the problem this issue presents. The bill aims to “replace” the death penalty with another option for aggravated murders.

Under current law, these defendants can be punished with a 25-to-life sentence or life without parole. The proposed bill adds an additional option of 45 to life as well, which enables prosecutors to add a harsher punishment in hopes of securing a confession or negotiating a plea deal.

This is important because — from the research Libertas has conducted — this is effectively the only valid argument in favor of keeping the death penalty. Prosecutors argue that having the death penalty available allows them to pressure a killer into revealing where the body is, or confessing to the crime. However, nearly two dozen states have eliminated the death penalty and can still achieve these outcomes; abandoning capital punishment has not hindered their ability. And adding an additional (and higher) penalty gives another tool to prosecutors — and one that spares victim family members, taxpayers, and the public at large.

HB 147 is an appropriate balance to ensure the criminal justice system does not kill the wrong people, spares victims of decades of ongoing abuse, and secures justice to hold heinous criminals responsible for their actions.