A bill that would expand the death penalty to human traffickers received approval from the Utah House Friday.
Sponsored by Representative Paul Ray (Republican – Clearfield), HB 136 – Human Trafficking Amendments allows 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. The bill originally stated that the death penalty would only apply when trafficking children, but Ray substituted it to include the trafficking of adults as well.
“If we are really going to get serious on human trafficking, we need to really put our money where our mouth is. We need to have some serious penalties,” said Ray.
Representative Brian King (Democrat – Salt Lake City) questioned the deterrent effect of imposing capital punishment on human traffickers and asked Ray if there was any data backing it up from other states that have similar laws. “I don’t really follow other states when it comes to drafting our legislation, so I’m not aware of any,” Ray responded.
King finds that troubling. “If we don’t have any information to suggest that we know that imposing the death penalty for human trafficking is something that is going to deter that, I would suggest that we’re putting the cart before the horse.”
King also pointed to the financial implications of further expanding the death penalty. “We’ve got a real problem when we start talking about expanding the list of crimes for which we impose the death penalty for purposes of the cost alone that is associated with doing that.”
Ray believes having the death penalty as an option will make defendants more likely to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.
“This is a tool in the tool kit for prosecutors. If you have somebody who’s just that heinous, they have that ability to go after the death penalty, but they also have the ability to plead out and allow us to continue on and have closure for that family.”
This is not Ray’s first foray into 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.
The House passed the bill on a 44-28 vote and it now heads to the Senate.
Meanwhile, Senator Steve Urquart (Republican – St. George) is drafting bill entitled “Death Penalty Amendments,” which would do away with capital punishment entirely.