Utah soon enforcing new felony and misdemeanor laws

Friday , May 22, 2015 - 12:14 PM

Standard-Examiner correspondent

SALT LAKE CITY – The 2015 legislative session made significant changes to reclassify felony and misdemeanor charges in the state.

House Bill 348, sponsored by Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, created the majority of these changes. One notable change reduced a methamphetamine or heroin possession first-time offense charge from a felony to a misdemeanor.

The bill also created one new first-degree felony, five third-degree felonies, 11 class A misdemeanors, 16 class B misdemeanors, and 38 class C misdemeanors. In total 80 new reclassifications of criminal offenses, a significant increase from only 22 changes in 2014.

HB 348 has an effective date of May 2015, but most of the reclassifications won’t take effect until October this year. The Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee met Tuesday to evaluate and plan implementation of these changes.

Jennifer Valencia, the director of the Sentencing Commission, presented the reclassifications at the interim meeting. The Sentencing Commission Legislative Update reported 257 new infraction laws for 2015.

“I don’t want to give the impression that we created 257 new infractions,” Valencia said. “But due to the reclassification of many of those class C misdemeanors we have listed those there for transparency’s sake.”

Nearly all the new infraction laws fell under traffic violations. The bill also reduced drug-free zone limits from 1,000 feet to 100 feet and added a time limitation in these areas, which includes schools, churches, parks, and shopping areas. Other significant changes in classification include: forging a prescription form changed to a class A misdemeanor and marijuana possession charges are now class B misdemeanors.

Valencia also reported an anticipated fiscal impact of more than $15 million for 2015. In comparison, the fiscal impact in 2014 estimated a value of more than $100,000. The highest impact for projected fiscal costs normally correlate with high prison admissions expectations. Yet 2015 showed no anticipated prison admissions. So why is the fiscal impact so high?

“$13,980,000 (of the fiscal impact) is attributable to House Bill 348 and that is in particular an investment in both supervision and treatment resources within our criminal justice system,” Valencia explained. “And I promise, Utah law enforcement appreciated the investment.”

Valencia’s report to the interim committee also highlighted other bills including:

• HB 215, sponsored by Jack Draxler, R-Logan, changed the sex offender registry process. The law now requires sex offenders to register in person and provide a contact phone number.

• Senate Bill 59, sponsored by Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, amended domestic violence cases to allow judges time to gather information on the defendant to check for prior incidents or out of state incidents.

• SB 115, sponsored by Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley, narrowed assault misdemeanor charges to use or attempted use of force, not just a threat.

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