SB 126: Informed Plea Deal Decisions
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When an individual is arrested for allegedly committing a crime, in most cases, they will agree to a plea deal rather than leaving their fate in the hands of jury trial, which is an expensive and lengthy route to potential freedom — or a harsher sentence. Plus, plea deals often yield the best-case scenario for sentencing in terms of getting a lower penalty in return for a guilty plea. But, one of the main problems with plea deals is that defendants are often rushed to make a decision. In turn, they aren’t always fully informed about the collateral consequences — other penalties like a driver’s license suspension, geographical distancing housing requirements, or restricted firearm use — of a guilty plea.
Senator Dan Thatcher is sponsoring Senate Bill 126 to take the first step to solve this problem by requiring the Utah Sentencing Commission to compile a list of all the collateral consequences for a conviction or adjudication of an offense. The bill would require annual updates to the guide, as court and statutory rules are always changing. The Sentencing Commission would present the guide to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee after yearly updates.
The goal would be to use this guide to give to defendants as a mechanism of informed consent so they know exactly what they’re agreeing to before taking a plea deal. This legislation does not require the list to be given to defendants, but defense attorneys will certainly put it to use to help their clients understand their options.