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State judges can stop repeat offenders like accused killer of U. football player, says ex-attorney for Utah

File: John Huber speaks to reporters outside court Friday, October 5, 2018. Photo: Mary Richards, KSL NewsRadio

SALT LAKE CITY —  Judges in state courts have the laws on the books to keep repeat offenders locked up to prevent needless deaths like that of a University of Utah football player who was recently murdered, says the former US attorney for Utah.

KUTV reported 328 parolees on average either went missing or could not be accounted for each month by Utah Adult Parole and Probation (AP&P) in the last six months of 2020, based on data from the Utah Department of Corrections. That’s 3,936 missing parolees a year.

Lowe was shot and killed Sept. 26. A woman at the same house party in Sugar House was shot and wounded and remains in critical condition, according to police.

Read more: Arrest made in murder of University of Utah football player Aaron Lowe

Detectives booked Buk Buk, 22, into the Salt Lake County Jail Sunday morning on charges of aggravated murder, attempted murder and felony discharge of a firearm in the death of Lowe and wounding of the unidentified woman. Buk’s criminal history in Utah includes arrests for aggravated robbery, theft, weapons offenses and giving false information to police.

Justice reform program in Utah backfires, says critic

John Huber, the former US attorney for Utah, joined Dave and Dujanovic on KSL NewsRadio to discuss prosecuting criminal cases in the federal vs. the state court system.

Huber lays blame for state cases falling through the cracks on a criminal justice reform program called The Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). The Legislature approved that program in 2015.

“If people aren’t familiar with it, about five, six years ago when it (JRI) started to take effect, it reduced a number of crimes, gave criminals credit for good time and really also reduced sentences in a lot of cases,” Huber said.

He added that the JRI and its one-size-fits-all rubric prevents judges from spotting the serious concerns or red flags that appear in cases like Buk’s. 

State judges have the tools to stop repeat offenders

“This guy’s [Buk] really out of control. Two robberies in a short period of time. [In] one of those he used a gun and he flees police. He’s found with ammunition and the firearm. I mean this guy’s out of control,” Huber said.

He said judges need the tools to put dangerous criminals behind bars to ensure society’s safety. That does not happen in state courts, Huber said, while it does happen in federal courts.

After his conviction for two armed robberies, Buk was sentenced to a year in jail. What would he have received in federal court? host Debbie Dujanovic asked Huber.

Huber said the law is on the books for a state judge to impose at sentencing.

“That aggravated robbery with a gun is a five-to-life [term], the highest penalty the state offers . . . that judge had everything he or she needed to keep us safe,” he said.

On Buk’s third offense for possessing ammunition linked to a stolen firearm, he would have been sentenced up to five years in federal court, Huber said.

“All the tools are on the books in the state of Utah. We need to unleash the judges and the prosecutors to allow them to use their good judgment, which we hired them for, and put meaningful sentences on these repeat reckless offenders,” he said.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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