SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A plan that would expand capital punishment in Utah so that criminals convicted of aggravated human trafficking or child sex exploitation that leads to death could be executed has made it through its first test on Friday.
Members of a House law enforcement and criminal justice committee voted 6-5 to approve the proposal, despite concern from both lawmakers and members of the public that the plan would be costly and is unnecessary.
Ralph Dellapiana, of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, spoke out against the proposal during the hearing, saying that the courts only allow the death penalty to be used on the “worst of the worst.”
The bill “seems to capture people that would not normally be deemed the worst of the worst,” he said during the hearing.
Proposal sponsor Republican Rep. Paul Ray said human trafficking is a big problem in Utah, so he wants to hold the leaders of human trafficking rings accountable.
“I want to be able to pull down a cartel kingpin or somebody and put them on death row if women or girls are dying in their trafficking rings,” he told The Associated Press.
The proposal is only the latest effort by Ray to institute hardline death-penalty plans. He ushered in a law in 2015 allowing Utah to use firing squads in executions if the state can’t obtain lethal injection drugs.
The bill next moves to the full House of Representatives for consideration.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah spoke against the proposal, saying it is more effective to provide support and protections for the actual victims of human trafficking.
ACLU spokesperson Anna Thomas said the death penalty is ineffective, as it almost never results in the sentence being given, and is more costly than a life sentence.
“There’s also this troubling trend in Utah where for every very serious social ill, Rep. Ray is really quick to offer the death penalty as a solution,” she said. “And it never works and it will never work.”
Ray said he believes an inmate spending life in prison would be more expensive because of medical costs and court appeals.
The lawmaker tried to pass a similar bill last year, but it died in a Senate committee.
Execution law in the U.S. dictates that crimes must involve a victim’s death or treason against the government to be eligible for the death penalty.
Ray said he also plans to introduce a proposal this year that would require the death penalty if someone kills a police officer. The plan is meant to punish someone who wakes up one morning and specifically decides to kill a police officer because of their job, he said.
The ACLU said the proposal is redundant since the death penalty can already be sought if someone kills a law enforcement officer.
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