SALT LAKE CITY UT Jan 31 2018— Killing an ambulance driver or a private security guard could result in an aggravated murder charge eligible for the death penalty under a proposed law a Utah legislative committee backed Monday.
Lawmakers, however, were told passing the bill could lead to a court overturning Utah’s death penalty law.
Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said all first responders called to an emergency should be treated the same regardless of their jobs.
“We just don’t know who’s going to get there first,” she told the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Monday. “Sometimes those who would do harm lay in wait.”
SB30 would add correctional officers, special function officers, search and rescue workers, emergency medical personnel, ambulance personnel and security officers to the list of potential aggravated murder victims. Aggravated murder could result in the death penalty.
Aggravating circumstances could apply if the officer is on duty, if the killing is related to the victim’s position or if the offender reasonably should have known the victim’s position, according to the bill. Mayne said it would be up to prosecutors to decide if those factors apply to the crime.
The committee voted 5-1 to advance the bill to the Senate floor.
Mayne said the legislation is not about the merits of capital punishment.
But William Carlson, deputy Salt Lake County district attorney, warned that appeals courts in other states have thrown out the death penalty when they have found the list of aggravating factors has grown too long. Utah law already lists 60 aggravating factors, he said.
Still, he said neither the district attorney’s office nor the Statewide Association of Prosecutors has a position on the bill.
Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said people who oppose the death penalty favor the bill because it could lead to the law being repealed. She told her colleagues she expects a lawsuit if SB30 passes, though she voted for it and opposes the death penalty.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Wood Cross, cast the lone vote against the bill. As a death penalty supporter, he said he worries that adding aggravating factors to the law could sink capital punishment.
The Utah Chiefs of Police Association supports the measure.
“These are folks we are asking to protect the public and put themselves in harm’s way,” said Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, the association president.
“This is an important part of protecting those who respond to dangerous situations,” he said. “It sends a message to people who we employ that we’re looking out for their interest.”