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State lawmakers propose death penalty for human traffickers in homicide cases

Human trafficking that results in the death of the victim could be charged as a capital offense under a bill a House committee  approved Tuesday.
Human trafficking that results in the death of the victim could be charged as a capital offense under a bill a House committee approved Tuesday.
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SALT LAKE CITY — Human trafficking that results in the death of the victim could be charged as a capital offense under a bill a House committee approved Tuesday.

HB136 would add human trafficking, human trafficking of a child, and aggravated human trafficking to the list of crimes for which the state may seek the death penalty if they involve a homicide.

"We just think this is a good move to make this available for prosecutors to have in their arsenal if they need to go at it," said bill sponsor Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield. "It's not just the act of trafficking. There's a death involved."

Utah law already allows crimes such as aggravated arson, rape and aggravated child sexual abuse to be charged as capital felonies when a death occurs, he said.

The House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee passed the bill 6-3. It now goes to the full House for consideration.

The ACLU of Utah, Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers argued against the legislation, saying executions are expensive and won't deter human trafficking.

"The death penalty is not going to solve the problem. I think we need to be looking at real solutions to the problem and not just simply expand the use of the death penalty," said Jean Hill, Catholic Diocese government liaison.

Virginia Ward, who works with crime victims, said there are organizations in Utah that receive state funding to help trafficking victims.

"That's a problem," she said. "So if we're going to spend this kind of money on an issue such as expanding the use of the death penalty, it doesn't make sense that we're not giving those resources to the individuals who are truly affected."

Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross, who heads the state police chiefs association, said sometimes the death penalty is about punishment, not deterrence or sending a message.

"This is the most heinous of crimes," he said. "This is the death of a child that has been tortured through abuse or sexual assault."

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