Human Trafficking Death Penalty Bill Advances

Representative Paul Ray (Republican - Clearfield)
Representative Paul Ray (Republican – Clearfield)

Legislation that would expand the death penalty to human traffickers was passed out of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee with a favorable recommendation Tuesday.

Sponsored by Representative Paul Ray (Republican – Clearfield), HB 136 – Human Trafficking Amendments would allow the death penalty to be an option in the event that a homicide that occurs while an individual is engaged in human trafficking, even if the individual did not commit the homicide themselves. While the bill originally singled out to state that the death penalty would only apply when trafficking children, Ray substituted it to include the trafficking of adults as well.

“We just think it’s a good move to make this available to the prosecutors to have in their arsenal if they need to go at it,” said Ray.

Ray is no stranger to capital punishment. During the 2015 General Session, Ray passed HB 11 – Death Penalty Procedure Amendments, which allows for death by firing squad to be imposed if the drugs used to carry out a lethal injection cannot be obtained 30 or more days prior to the execution date.

In a statement that was read to the committee, Marina Lowe, legislative and policy counsel for the ACLU of Utah, spoke of the unfair ways the death penalty is administered and how Ray’s bill would worsen the problem.

“Its primary features are that it is expensive, ineffective, and arbitrarily applied. This effort by Representative Ray keeps moving Utah in the wrong direction. In Utah and across the country, decisions about who lives and who dies are largely dependent upon the race of the defendants and of their victim, the skill of their attorneys, the defendant’s socioeconomic status, and where the crime took place. Such infrequent, arbitrary, and discriminatory administration of the death penalty is the very definition of a failed system. HB 136 expands this injustice,” wrote Lowe.

Kent Hart, executive director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, believes the money spent on capital cases would be more useful elsewhere. “We should adopt criminal justice policies that are effective, that will reduce recidivism, that will actually help the system as a whole. The death penalty has proven to not deter. It has no deterrent value. It is an extreme expense for just a few cases. That money could be better used to prevent crime and to rehabilitate people,” said Hart.

Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, representing the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, spoke in favor of the bill. “This is the most heinous of crimes. This is the death of a child who has been tortured through abuse or sexual assault. At the end of the day, if we are going to punish those that are involved in these types of crimes, sometimes that’s all we’re talking about is punishment. It’s not always about sending messages and trying to prevent. It’s about punishing somebody that has committed the worst of crimes against those that are a most protected asset,” said Ross.

Lawmakers voted 6-3 to advance the bill to the full House for its consideration.

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