SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate is poised to pass a bill to enhance the penalty for third-time domestic violence offenders in the hope of lowering the state’s high rate of domestic violence deaths.
“Domestic violence is cyclical in nature and escalates over time. Also, there is a risk of lethality that is always attached to domestic violence. Statistically looking at the number of fatalities in Utah, an overwhelming amount of them are related to domestic violence,” bill sponsor Sen. Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, said Tuesday.
Under current law, domestic violence offenses carry a class A misdemeanor.
SB64 would modify the state’s criminal code to make it a third-degree felony for someone who commits domestic violence when they have two previous domestic violence convictions within the previous 10 years, Iwamoto said.
In domestic violence cases of criminal mischief — meaning violence committed against someone’s property — the previous convictions would need to take place within the past five years to lead to an enhanced penalty.
The bill would not allow someone’s juvenile record to be considered as previous convictions.
Iwamoto said the bill was conceived by a working group comprised of police, victim advocates, courts, prosecutors and others.
“And with it going to a third-degree felony after multiple times, we’re not talking about just one domestic violence, this is third or more, they are able to get wraparound services from (Adult Probation and Parole Office), and that’s the only way they can get it,” Iwamoto told members of the Senate before it took an initial vote on the bill.
Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, said he believes those who commit domestic violence should receive intervention, but he’s “not entirely certain that this bill will do anything but criminalize people who are already, for whatever reason, in a bad situation.”
He said he’s read studies that say enhancing the penalty doesn’t deter crime, and that the state will get more traction out of intervention rather than criminalization.
“There is not a single human being on the planet who stops and goes, ‘I shouldn’t do this because this is going to be a felony instead of a class A misdemeanor,’” Anderegg noted.
Sen. Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, said in her work on criminal justice as a legislator, she’s seen how the cycle of abuse works.
“And this enhancement is very unique. If you look at the data … there is enough evidence that it does impact the outcomes of these cases. It reduces lethality, which is critical,” Escamilla said.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, also spoke in support of the bill despite his history of working to lower criminal penalties.
“However, there are times when an enhancement is both necessary and data proven to get better outcomes, and this is one of those cases. We have a crisis of domestic violence murders in the state of Utah and this bill will directly impact those rates and those numbers,” Thatcher said.
While domestic violence offenders should receive resources, the bill only addresses those who have shown a pattern. Those who hit their third offense will eventually “keep doing it until they kill someone and we stop them finally,” Thatcher said.
The Senate passed the bill unanimously in a preliminary vote, indicating it will likely receive passage in a final vote.