ST. GEORGE — The Utah Legislature has passed a bill that would amend a loophole in juvenile sentencing law and that was motivated in part by the 2016 killing of a West Valley City Police officer.
HB 67, which was sponsored by Rep. Craig Hall, R-West Valley City, and co-sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, unanimously passed both the House and Senate.
Hall said the problem with the sentencing law as it stood was that when an incarcerated juvenile was transferred to an adult facility, an adult court judge could reduce his/her sentence. This posed potential problems in both directions.
To begin with, juveniles who perhaps shouldn’t be in an adult facility could be made to finish out their sentences there. But there was also a loophole in the law by which juveniles who should have been detained their full juvenile sentence could be released early, as in the case of the Boggs brothers, Christopher and Lawrence.
The Boggs brothers were charged with first-degree felony murder in juvenile court after stealing a car, then striking and killing West Valley Police officer Cody Brotherson with it in November 2016. They were also charged with vehicle theft, failing to stop for law enforcement and other gang-related crimes.
“The juvenile court judge handed down the maximum sentence to these teens,” Hall told the House Judiciary Committee on Jan. 27. “They should have been held there until they were 21.”
However, in 2020, the brothers were involved in two separate assaults while in custody. As adults at that point, they were taken out of the juvenile facility and placed in an adult facility, Hall said. Despite the fact that they had killed a police officer and had been involved in two assaults while in juvenile detention, an adult court judge released them before they were 21. They were arrested for a slew of new charges months later.
“Ironically, had they not committed any offenses while in custody, they would have remained in juvenile until they were 21,” Hall said. “But because they committed additional offenses while in juvenile, these offenses ironically led to shorter sentences.”
Hall said HB 67 ensures that a youth will be held accountable for their juvenile disposition.
Snow, who is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told St. George News in January following the committee’s unanimous favorable recommendation that lawmakers don’t only make new laws but also “try and find issues related to defects in laws.”
“We address and try to fix them,” he said. “This is a step in the right direction.”
Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, who was the only Utah lawmaker to vote against a separate juvenile sentencing bill, told St. George News that he liked what Hall did with HB 67.
“It fixes this loophole in a logical way,” Lyman said. “The language empowers judges to hand down sentences as they see fit, unlike SB 50, which I voted against.”
HB 67 will now go to the governor for his signature.
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