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Some Judges Say Their Courtrooms Won’t Be Returning To Old Practices After Bail Reform Repeal

A photo of the Matheson Courthouse.
Kent Kanouse
Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
The Matheson Courthouse is home of Utah's Third District Court in Salt Lake City, Aug. 24, 2014.

In May, a landmark piece of Utah bail reform legislation will be largely repealed under a new state law. However, some judges said their courtrooms won’t be fully returning to the old way of doing things.

The bail reform law being repealed requires judges to release low-level offenders using the least restrictive measures appropriate to their case and other circumstances. It also provides an extensive list of options for pretrial release.

Salt Lake County Judge Todd Shaughnessy said judges will probably still end up using pre-trial release much more frequently than they did before bail reform, because the law created a cultural change.

“Judges looking more at risk and trying to tailor the individual conditions to [those] particular circumstances that that person presents — those kinds of things I don’t think are going to change,” Shaughnessy said.

In southeast Utah, Judge George Harmond said he thinks the same will happen in his and other rural courtrooms.

“The more information that the judge has about a person, the better decision he or she can make regarding that person's release and what should happen if they're released or if they're held,” Harmond said.

However, he said it has been harder for some of the rural counties he serves to adhere to the current bail reform law because they don’t have robust pretrial services.

“We still had to try to fashion a way that this person could be released, if possible, under certain conditions,” he said. “The difficulty is in monitoring those conditions. Long-term, we're hoping we can work with the [Utah] Legislature to come up with some pretrial services for the whole state.”

The bail reform law set up a grant program for counties to create pretrial services, and that will stay in place even after the law is largely repealed. According to the state commission that administers the grants, no county has applied for one.

“I think that's more a matter of education than anything with these counties to try to realize that it's there and it's available for their services,” Harmond said.

The state Legislature is expected to convene later this year in a special session to vote on a new bail reform bill.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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