U Professor Drafts Hate Crimes Bill for State Legislature

U Professor Drafts Hate Crimes Bill for State Legislature

By Emily Anderson

Cliff Rosky, a professor at the U’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, is fighting to implement stiffer punishments for hate crimes.

Rosky drafted SB107, Hate Crimes Amendments, to improve Utah’s laws, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Urquhart, (R-St. George). SB107 would allow prosecutors to use prejudice as a sentencing enhancement to felonies, which would increase felony sentences against hate crimes by one step. For example, a second degree felony would become a first degree felony if it involved some degree of bias.

Currently, Utah has enacted three hate crimes laws — the Hate Crimes Statistics Act in 1990, the Hate Crimes Penalties Act in 1992 and the Criminal Penalty Amendments in 2006. Although these laws mention hate crimes in the title, Rosky said they don’t specifically address prejudices against the victim based on their demographic but, rather, confront anyone preventing someone else from exercising their rights.

The penalties administered by the laws in place are also limited to misdemeanors, meaning that if someone hit another person because of their race they would receive a harsher sentence, but a racially-motivated murder would not. Rosky said it’s unclear whether anyone has been successfully convicted for committing a hate crime since 1992, when the first law combatting hate crimes was passed.

In February last year, Salt Lake District Attorney Sim Gill called Utah’s hate crimes laws “toothless” after he was unable to file charges against the attackers of two gay men leaving a bar in 2014.

“Unfortunately, our state’s laws have not proven to be effective at punishing the individuals who commit hate crimes,” Rosky said. “Prosecutors across the state agree that our hate crimes laws are rarely, if ever, enforced.”

Rosky also helped Urquhart in the drafting of SB296, Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments, which passed last year. These amendments prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity while exempting religious organizations from following these guidelines in their facilities and institutions. The legislation was supported by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and applauded by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Although it received a favorable recommendation from a Senate committee with a 5-1 vote, SB107 didn’t experience the same success as SB296. On March 2, the bill failed with a vote of 11-17 with one member of the Senate abstaining.

Disappointed in the decision, Rosky said: “Unfortunately, no hate crimes are going to be punished unless and until the legislature fixes our laws.”

[email protected]

@emilyinorgandy