Justice and Due Process

You might be surprised what can land you in jail in Utah…

Library theft. Wagering on an election. Adultery.

These and many more odd crimes can land you in jail. The list of offenses for which incarceration is on the table includes consensual sexual activities that are on constitutionally shaky ground after the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated anti-sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas.

Fortunately, efforts are underway in Utah to reverse the tide of over-criminalization. In 2016, Senator Daniel Thatcher led an effort to eliminate the consequence of jail time on a number of silly Class C misdemeanor offenses—50 of them, to be precise, compared to the roughly 10,403 crimes for which you can be charged.

And now he is back, this time tackling Class B misdemeanors for the upcoming 2018 legislative session. Working alongside the Utah Sentencing Commission, Sen. Thatcher is identifying a variety of criminal offenses that should be repealed or reduced to an infraction. Along with the examples above, these includeholding a raccoon and allowing a swine to run at large.

One of the reasons why there are hundreds of Class B misdemeanor offenses on the books is because any new offense defined as a misdemeanor is automatically made a Class B. This often occurs when cities pass a new ordinance defining a new offense. Rather than simply criminalizing these actions as Class B misdemeanors by default, cities should take the time to determine whether they might be more appropriately punished at a lower level.

Look for a bill next session decriminalizing dozens of offenses and for the strange arguments that some bureaucrats and prosecutors will make in an attempt to defend some of these odd laws.