Posted by Utah Criminal Defense Attorney Stephen Howard
March 4, 2016.
The Utah Senate voted this week on a bill that would abolish the death penalty in Utah. The bill, sponsored by Senator Steve Urquart, narrowly passed the Senate, with a vote of 15 in favor, 12 opposed, and 2 either absent or abstaining. The bill must still pass the House before becoming law. But Sen. Urquart has expressed optimism about progress being made with members of the Utah House of Representatives.
Even if the bill passes the House, it could still be subject to veto by Utah Governor Gary Herbert. Given the narrow margin by which the bill passed the Senate, there remain real questions about whether the bill has sufficient support in the legislature to overcome a veto by the Governor.
The Senate vote passing the bill to repeal the death penalty has been a surprise to many. Just last year, Utah’s legislature passed a new law, which was signed by the Governor, that reinstated the firing squad as a potential method for imposing the death penalty if the State were not able to lawfully obtain the drugs needed for death by lethal injection. And even this year, the Representative Paul Ray introduced legislation that would expand capital punishment under Utah’s aggravated murder statute for certain homicides committed during an act of human trafficking.
If this bill passes, Utah would join 19 other states and the District of Columbia that have abolished the death penalty by statute.