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Utah Lawmakers Will Attempt — Again — To Get Rid Of The Death Penalty

A photo of Lowry Snow and Daniel McCay.
Ivana Martinez
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, and Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, talk about their bill that will replace and repeal the death penalty.

Utah lawmakers are planning to reintroduce legislation in the upcoming session that would repeal the state’s death penalty. Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, and Sen. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton, gathered Tuesday afternoon to introduce the latest version of the bill.

It would repeal and replace the death penalty and offer alternative charges for prosecutors like life without parole, 45 years to life and 25 years to life.

Snow said the 45 years to life option gives lawyers and attorneys a tool that didn’t exist before. He said the death penalty isn’t an effective tool for justice.

“The reality is we're seeing very few cases charged as death penalty cases today,” Snow said. “And the reason is, is not necessarily because they're not egregious and horrific murders, but the chances of actually getting that death penalty are remote.”

He said often times families who go for the capital punishment have to experience years-long appeal processes and face media exposure before someone ever faces an execution.

Snow and McCay see their bill as a way to offer closure and give justice to families.

“We have a duty in our state to be fair with the victims,” Snow said. “To be honest with them in terms of declaring what we can accomplish and make sure the law is consistent with what we can actually accomplish, in terms of justice.”

Snow also pointed to new technology like DNA testing that has helped exonerate people on death row.

“There's also another recognition, and that is the reality of the number of exonerations that are occurring … That's an ongoing process,” he said. “And those exonerations are with death penalty cases. There's a recognition that our system is not is not perfect.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since the 1970s when the U.S. reinstitute the death penaly, 185 people have been exonerated nationwide.

Jensie Anderson, a clinical law professor at the University of Utah and the legal director of Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, said these numbers show the flaws in the criminal justice system.

“It shows that our system not only makes mistakes, but it makes mistakes when it sentences people to death,” Anderson said.

For some people, the case against the death penalty is about money and the preservation of life.

Demetrius Minor, national manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty, said the financial cost of keeping someone on death row is large and can be better used to support families.

In 2012, the estimated cost in Utah for pursuing death row was an additional $1.6 million per inmate from trial to execution compared to life-without-parole cases.

From a conservative viewpoint economically [it doesn’t make sense],” Minor said. “How [can] that cost be reallocated towards victims' families, towards healing, towards trauma and things of that nature?”

This marks the third time in the past five years lawmakers have introduced legislation to prohibit the use of capital punishment. In 2016 former Republican Sen. Steve Urquhart sponsored a similar bill that came close to passing. In 2018, another bill was introduced by former Republican Rep. Gage Froerer.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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