SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns with nonviolent misdemeanor records could automatically have convictions expunged under one of several criminal justice measures that have won approval in this year’s legislative session.
Proponents say the existing process to clear criminal records is expensive and overcomplicated, and the paperwork burdens Utah’s courts. As a result, too many Utahns have public criminal histories that have prevented them from getting jobs and have caused them to lose hope, according to Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, who sponsored HB431. The proposal would allow certain criminal records to be wiped clean in five to seven years.
Here’s a look at several crime-related bills that have also advanced to Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk.
• Attorneys for kids and teens: The proposal aims to ensure that children and teens navigating the juvenile court system in rural Utah have the same access to an attorney as they would in more urban counties. The bill directs judges to appoint a public defender for each juvenile, allowing them to later hire their own attorney or forego one. Under SB32, courts can send an invoice if they later determine a child’s family could afford the lawyer. Critics have warned the bill could overburden defenders and require them to be present at more hearings than necessary.
• Campus safety: A proposal inspired by the October slaying of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey would require the state’s public colleges to clarify how students can report stalking, sexual assault and relationship violence, whether the crimes happen on or off campus. SB134 also requires bystander training of each student in an officially recognized club or team.
• Justice for victims: Lawmakers have also backed proposals with victims in mind, including a measure that would give survivors of rape and sexual assault a second chance to pursue criminal charges after a prosecutor declines their case. HB281 would grant the Utah Attorney General’s Office the authority to file charges after a county attorney declines or waits more than six months to review the case.
• Protective orders: HB100 would allow Utahns to apply for protective orders against acquaintances and co-workers — not just romantic partners. In a similar vein, HB19 would clarify that a judge can issue no-contact orders against suspected sexual and domestic violence offenders that still allow for limited interactions to pick up or drop off children.
Lawmakers also took aim at human trafficking with HB20, which stipulates that anyone who knowingly benefits from the smuggling of a child for forced labor or sexual exploitation can be criminally charged.
And for those who have been abused in polygamous communities and seek to leave, HB214 would make compensation available through a state reparations fund.
Source:: Deseret News – Utah News