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Reform or aggressive prosecution? That’s the GOP debate in the Utah County Attorney primary

Utah County GOP convention, hallway of campaign signs, April 9, 2022
Sonja Huston
Campaign signs at the Utah County GOP convention where Adam Pomeroy got 53% of the vote and Jeff Gray got 46% in the second round of voting, April 9, 2022.

Republican Utah County Attorney David Leavitt faces a tough road to re-election, especially in the upcoming primary. He’s being challenged by two prosecutors who received more support at the county’s GOP convention in early April than he did. Leavitt only got 10% of the delegate’s vote.

Leavitt is once again running on a platform of reforming the criminal justice system. He said he wants to continue charging low-risk, nonviolent offenders less aggressively.

For him, the traditional approach doesn’t make sense.

“The third time you steal a bag of potato chips, you can be charged with a felony,” Leavitt said. “They get a very small sentence because it's stealing a bag of potato chips. And the real penalty comes when you're a felon for the next 50 years of your life.”

Leavitt’s challengers want to be more aggressive.

“If the evidence supports an enhancement under the law, then I will charge that,” said Jeff Gray, who works for the state Attorney General’s office prosecuting cases that have been appealed. “I think it's irresponsible to make those kinds of decisions as far as reducing a charge at the charging stage.”

Adam Pomeroy approaches it a bit differently. He’s a prosecutor in Leavitt’s office.

For example, Leavitt’s guidelines say that, in most cases, retail theft, simple drug possession and disorderly conduct should not be upgraded to more serious charges based on the person’s prior convictions.

Pomeroy said there are circumstances where you wouldn’t want to charge those enhancements, but he wants to start with the assumption they will.

“He equates every theft to someone stealing a bag of potato chips and that's just not correct,” Pomeroy said. “The Legislature has decided on behalf of the community it represents to classify a crime as X, Y, Z. And so our presumption should be to start at what that is. And then we should endeavor to individualize to every person and every case.”

At the convention — in the second round of voting — Pomeroy got 53% of the vote and Gray got 46%. The primary election is June 28.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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