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Utah House committee votes unanimously for mandatory prison time in DUI homicides

Jan 29, 2024, 6:25 PM | Updated: Feb 8, 2024, 8:25 am

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker wants much harsher mandatory penalties for those who drink and drive and kill someone.

Rep. Andrew Stoddard, R-Midvale, wants a minimum five-year prison sentence for those who get behind the wheel impaired and are charged with automobile homicide. Currently, the law is one to 15 years, which, according to Stoddard, means someone could avoid prison altogether.

“What we want to do is create a minimum and say this is how long this offender will be in. This will allow this much time for these families to grieve, to heal,” he said, in an interview with KSL TV.

Stoddard presented his bill, HB273, before members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee on Monday afternoon.

“April 28, 2022. He was 13 years old,” said a tearful Jeremy Mitchell.

Mitchell lost his son Eli to a drunk driver in West Jordan nearly two years ago and testified in the committee hearing in support of HB273.

“I’m here to protect future victims; to have a mandatory five years or more before (offenders) go to a parole board,” he said. “(Right now), they can get out in five years or less and life can change for them. It doesn’t change for me. I have to live this the rest of my life. These things just keep happening and nothing is changing. People are still getting in their cars and driving drunk. In my opinion they make a conscious decision to do it and it’s like having a weapon ready to roll.”

But two defense attorneys argued before the committee that it’s wrong to mandate prison time for this kind of crime.

“The defense bar has significant concerns with this bill and we oppose it,” said Mark Moffat with the Utah Criminal Defense Lawyers Association. “There is no evidence before this committee that the judiciary system doesn’t handle these cases correctly and don’t send the right people to prison.”

“Even though a mandatory prison sentence may be appropriate in 90 or 95% of the cases, what about the five percent?” questioned Steve Burton, director of the Defense Attorney Association.

But many others testified in favor of the bill, including Col. Michael Rapich with the Utah Highway Patrol.

“We are definitely trending in the wrong direction as far as the problem with impaired drivers,” Rapich said. “In the last year, in 2023, we arrested more impaired drivers than we have in the last six years, over 11,000.”

In the end, the committee voted in favor of the bill to move it to the House floor for a vote. Not one lawmaker opposed it.

“All those in favor say ‘I’, Any oppose?” the committee chair said. “That motion passes unanimously.”

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Utah House committee votes unanimously for mandatory prison time in DUI homicides