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Should Utah start prosecuting hate crimes?

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio.

In light of the violent attacks on Jose and Luis Lopez, Utahns are beginning to ask: how do we prosecute hate crimes?

On November 27, Alan Dale Covington beat Jose and Luis Lopez into critical condition after walking into their shop, Lopez Tires, and allegedly screaming “I’m here to kill some Mexicans.”

Police say Covington told them he targeted the shop because the owners appeared to be Mexican and that he, “hate[s] Mexicans” but despite his unambiguous motive, Covington will not be prosecuted for a hate crime.

State Senator Daniel Thatcher, who will sponsor what he called “the gold standard of hate crimes legislation” in the upcoming legislative session, called into The Dave and Dujanovic Show to explain the reasoning behind the prosecution.

According to Thatcher, Utah is one of just four states without an enforceable hate crimes statute and the statute does not apply to felonies and lacks the necessary teeth to prosecute misdemeanors effectively.

“Even misdemeanors cannot be tried under Utah law as a hate crime,” Thatcher told replacement hosts Ethan Millard and Utah State Senator, Todd Weiler. “[Utah’s hate crime statute] is literally — not figuratively, I’m not speaking hyperbolically — unenforceable.”

Thatcher is proposing a bill drafted by the Anti-Defamation League that would criminalize the targeted victimization of minority groups. The bill would increase penalties for crimes “if the offender acted against an individual because of the offender’s perception of the individual’s ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation.”

The bill would not apply to noncriminal acts, Thatcher specified — a court must first prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offender committed a crime before evaluating their motive.

“The idea that this would punish free speech or unpopular thoughts, or that this would somehow prohibit a religion from saying ‘we don’t want certain people,’ is completely inaccurate,” Thatcher said.

Senator Weiler, who hosted on behalf of an absent Dave and Debbie, said he has “vacillated” on the concept of hate crimes legislation as he does not want to assume criminal offender’s intent.

“There’s no data to show that hate crimes legislation actually has a deterrent effect,” Weiler said on Dave and Dujanovic. “And what this man did was already illegal. It’s already illegal to try to kill someone.”

But Thatcher pointed out the importance of determining a motive in Utah’s criminal justice proceedings.

“We absolutely look at intent on almost every single crime that is committed,” Thatcher said. “One of the primary determining factors that will help us determine whether or not someone is a risk to re-offend is the intent behind what they did. Are they going to do it again?”

Millard pointed out the collective intimidation and “chilling effect” of targeted hate crimes, invoking the difference between vandalizing a synagogue with your name versus a swastika. Both are illegal, but one may warrant additional punishment for the additional fear it inspires.

This will be Thatcher’s third year sponsoring the bill, and the fourth consecutive year that anti-hate crime legislation will be proposed in the general legislative session. Thatcher said support for the measure has increased each year, and that he’s optimistic about the bill’s future this session.

“Every year we gain more support,” he said. “I think this matters, and I think we’re going to get some attention this year.”

Listen to the entire hate crimes segment below