POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Domestic violence penalties would increase for restricted persons

Feb 19, 2024, 3:00 PM

FILE: Purple flags at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. A Utah lawmaker says it's too easy for a rest...

FILE: Purple flags at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. A Utah lawmaker says it's too easy for a restricted person convicted of domestic violence to plead down and serve less time. A new proposal would change the penalty to a second-degree felony and increase jail time to a minimum of one year. (Yukai Peng/Deseret News)

(Yukai Peng/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker says it’s too easy for a restricted person convicted of domestic violence, to plead down and serve less time.

And she wants to change that.

Right now gun possession by a restricted person who’s been convicted of domestic violence is a third-degree felony in Utah. It carries a zero- to five-year sentence.  During a hearing of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, Rep. Marsha Judkins (R-Provo) said that, right now, the crime can be easily reduced.

HB166 would make that crime a second-degree felony and increase the penalty to a minimum of one year in jail.

“If they do commit that assault if you’re at a second-degree felony, it’s less likely you’re going to be able to plead down to a misdemeanor,” she said.

Increased sense of safety for domestic violence victims

Judkins says one of her main goals with this bill is to ensure that someone who’s been convicted of domestic violence and is caught with a gun, will face a harsh enough penalty that their victim can feel confident they’re going to spend time in jail.  

“There are people who are victims of domestic violence right now who are afraid to turn in their abusers because it’s not as serious,” she said.

“Or they knew this is a one to 15 years.  This is more serious.  They might be less afraid to come forward about their abuser.” 

And Judkins said she hopes the increased penalty will help create more survivors.

“We have such a high rate of domestic violence and sexual violence/intimate partner violence. We really need to start looking at how can we separate the survivors from the abusers. I feel like this bill is one of those.”

Concerns about the new bill

Steve Burton from the Defense Attorney’s Association told the committee that, right now, domestic violence is strictly defined.

“Any act that causes pain, so it can be intentional or reckless,” he said. 

“(If someone) shoves your spouse or your boyfriend or your girlfriend and they almost fall down or almost experienced pain,” he said, “(then) technically under the statute as written it is considered a domestic violence assault.” 

Judkins said the key to her proposal is that it must involve intent to harm.

The bill has received a favorable recommendation and moves to the full house for debate.

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Domestic violence penalties would increase for restricted persons