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Utah one step closer to getting rid of cash bail for some crimes

SALT LAKE CITY – Utah is one step closer to getting rid of cash bail for people arrested for some low level crimes. While the idea has many supporters, it also has its critics.

In a bill gaining ground in the Utah legislature, counties would set up “pretrial services programs” to figure out what to do with low risk people who are arrested for certain low level crimes.

For example, a defendant could have to go through a drug test or check in by phone if he’s released, instead of sitting in a jail cell before his next court date.

The state would also study the effects of getting rid of bail in these cases.

At a Senate committee hearing at the Utah State Capitol on Monday, Utah County public defender Ben Aldana told lawmakers bail is unfair to poor people.

“I have a lot of people who end up pleading guilty to a criminal offense because that’s part of the plea bargain. ‘If you plead guilty to this, we’ll let you out of jail.’ That happens all the time. It’s wrong. It shouldn’t happen,” Aldana said.

Many law enforcement agencies in the state have come out in support of the bill.

However, critics say the state does not know how well the last attempt at bail reform in Utah went.

Curt Oda with the state’s Bail Bond Advisory Commission believes it’s a dangerous bill because more people have been skipping out on bail.

“About a year and a half ago, there were about 100,000 outstanding warrants on bail skips. Today, there’s somewhere between 300 and 400,000,” Oda said.

The bill has already passed the House and is now onto the full Senate.