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Does your date have a criminal record? Find out for $5

By Mark Shenefelt - | Feb 2, 2022

Photo supplied, Jenna Nelson

Jenna Nelson and Lara Wilson are pictured Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022. The two Davis County women were instrumental in passage of House Bill 249, which ordered creation of a public access tool for retrieval of Utah court records. The sponsor, Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, said it will be most useful for women who might want to find out more about a date or partner to avoid domestic violence.

LAYTON — Dating? For $5, you can check to see if the person you’re planning to go out with has a criminal record.

It’s a new service offered by the Utah court system. Those who will use it can thank two Davis County women and Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, who pushed legislation to give people a new tool to guard against domestic violence.

Lara Wilson, of Layton, suffered broken bones and psychological trauma inflicted by her partner, needing hospitalization and three surgeries, finding out only later that he had a domestic violence criminal record. If she had known, maybe she would have hesitated, at least. “It’s information they don’t share when they meet you,” she said.

Wilson later ran into Jenna Nelson, who had worked with Handy on another crime victims’ bill in 2020. Nelson suggested Wilson go to Handy. Their discussions resulted in House Bill 249, passed by the Legislature in 2021. It called on the court system to give the public access to the state’s online court records database.

Earlier this week, the online database, called Utah Courts Xchange, became available to the general public. Logging in as a guest, a user can pay $5 to get up to 24 hours of access to search for district and justice court records of individuals, businesses and other entities.

MARK SHENEFELT, Standard-Examiner

Jenna Nelson and Lara Wilson pose for a portrait Friday, Jan. 8, 2021, at the Layton Justice Center. Wilson, at right, is the driving force behind a proposal to allow people to look up criminal records before dating someone. Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, says the bill would help women help themselves, learning whether a person has a domestic violence record. Nelson worked with Handy on a different victims' bill in 2020.

Handy envisions the service as being most valuable to women as they are contemplating going out with someone.

“All these meets today are happening online,” Handy said, compared to earlier generations’ sometimes more measured dating arrangements.

“I just think domestic violence is a scourge,” Handy said. “It’s unbelievable what happens out there. If this access can help even one or two or a handful of women in the course of their dating or domestic relationships to be cautious about where they are getting involved, it is worth it.”

After a guest user logs into Xchange, they can run keyword searches by name. Results may show everything from infractions to felonies, with basic details about charges and convictions. Some records, such as a police probable cause statement on an incident, cost an additional 50 cents to read or download.

Examples of other purposes for searching records may include checking out someone before engaging them with investments or other business dealings. Does an intended business partner have a fraud record, for example.

During legislative discussions about Handy’s bill, some lawmakers expressed reticence about making the records available, including documentation about charges that were dismissed.

But Handy points out that all the records are already classified as public records. Members of the public have always been able to go to a courthouse and view records, but it’s inconvenient and not in keeping with modern trends of making public databases available electronically.

Xchange has existed for years as a subscription program, a repository of district and justice court information. By subscription, police, lawyers, journalists and other institutional entities use it to look up civil and criminal cases.

Under Handy’s bill, the state spent $185,000 on programming to create the new guest access feature.

“I’m really excited about it,” Handy said. “It’s out now and we can let people use this as a tool against domestic violence.”

Nelson, of Clearfield, who lobbied at the Legislature in favor of the bill, said Tuesday the access program is a victory.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s a very useful tool for people not only to protect themselves, but to feel safe around the people we’re associating with.”


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