A Utah state senator is working on a bill that would replace Utah’s current hate crimes law, which many prosecutors say is unenforceable.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher (R-West Valley City) drafted the legislation, but he wants to make one thing about it clear.
“It’s not hate crimes,” he says.
Utah’s current hate crimes law is unenforceable because it’s too hard to prove hateful targeting in a courtroom, Thatcher says.
“We cannot prove in a court of law what someone thinks or feels, and therefore, the statute is useless.”
So instead, Thatcher says his bill would replace the current law with a version he calls "victim selection." He says under this version, prosecutors could seek a sentencing enhancement if they can prove an offender committed a crime against a person based on a perception of the victim’s race, religion, disability, gender identity or sexual orientation.
Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill helped craft the legislation. He pushed for an update to the existing hate crimes law last year.
“It has been a woefully inadequate law for us to have as public prosecutors,” Gill says. For one, “it only applies to minor offenses, that means B or C misdemeanors.”
Gill says the burden of proof is also impossibly high to meet, which is why Sen. Thatcher is optimistic about this new approach. He says penalty enhancements for victim selection are already used in some cases.
For example, “we use penalty enhancements for selecting a police officer as a victim, for selecting a judge, for preying on vulnerable adults,” Thatcher says. “You can prove that someone chose a victim, but you can’t prove that they hate them.”
Lawmakers will consider the bill in the 2017 legislative session, which begins on Monday.