- Associated Press - Saturday, January 18, 2014

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - The penalty that makes a person’s third misdemeanor offense and automatic felony is too harsh, says a Republican legislator who insists he’s not abandoning his conservative principles.

“People say, ‘I don’t understand why you’re so soft on crime,’” Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/KbykVf ). “I’m not. I just think we should be reasonable.”

Thatcher wants to make it four strikes before a felony charge kicks in for a lesser offense. He says a number of minor offenders are finding themselves facing a stretch in prison for a simple theft or shoplifting charge, although plea deals can change that.

Thatcher’s proposal was coasting through the Legislature last year when it missed getting final approval as a clock struck midnight at the end of the annual session. He believes it will pass this year.

Thatcher says a felony conviction is a scarlet letter that often takes away a person’s ability to make money - “frankly, good luck getting a job” - and shouldn’t be applied to minor offenses.

He calls his proposal the “Jean Valjean law” - a reference to a fictional character who got five years’ imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread in the musical “Les Miserables.”

The Utah Commission for Criminal and Juvenile Justice says the three-strikes law has been rarely enforced.

The Tribune cited the case of a man with two youthful shoplifting convictions who got nine months in prison on a third shoplifting charge after innocently wandering out of a store to take a cellphone call with merchandise in hand.

In another case, Daniel James Snyder faced felony punishment in 2010 for stealing five corndogs worth $4.74, according to the Standard-Examiner of Ogden.

Snyder had two previous convictions for misdemeanor theft. He was convicted of a felony the third time, but the charge was later reduced to a misdemeanor as part of a plea deal.

He was sentenced to 60 days in jail, a term of probation and was ordered to repay the grocery store $4.74, court records show.

“Most prosecutors are not interested in overcharging,” Thatcher said. “But some prosecutors will look for a way to use leverage to make someone confess.”


Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com



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