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Bail reform in Utah
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Live Mic: Should 2020 bail reform be undone? DA and lawmaker disagree

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and Rep. Mike Schultz have competing views about bail reform put into place in Utah six months ago. Photo: Canva

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County district attorney said bail reform made to the state’s bail system in 2020 is keeping the most dangerous suspects behind bars. But a Utah lawmaker said those changes need to be undone to protect the public and keep dangerous defendants locked up.

Last March, the Utah Legislature passed a bill that moved the state away from relying on cash-only bail. It requires judges to release people accused of low-level crimes using the least restrictive condition appropriate in their case. Those conditions could include weekly check-ins, drug tests, ankle monitors, and also cash bail.

The law went into effect in October.

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Judges have to consider public safety and the defendant’s likelihood to appear in court when assigning a condition for pretrial release.

Rep. Mike Schultz, R-Hooper, is sponsoring a bill — HB220 — to repeal most of the bail reform enacted last year.

The House on Feb. 6 passed HB220 on a vote of 51 to 21.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill joined KSL Newsradio host Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic to explain why he’s against HB220. Later, Schultz joined Lee to discuss why his bill is needed now.

No need to fix bail reform that isn’t broken

“Cash bail, as the only way to try to assess a public-safety risk, is probably unjust because it disproportionately impacts people who don’t have money,” Gill said.

He added that if a defendant who is rich can afford bail, the risk to the public remains.

Gill offered an example. If 100 people are arrested and 12 are violent, it doesn’t make sense to place the undue burden of cash bail on the other 88 nonviolent people.

“When we focus on the [violent] 12, what our data is showing is that we are retaining 95% for pretrial detention. So we’re safeguarding the public risk [and] not passing on the collateral impact of cash bail, which means that people lose their jobs while awaiting adjudication.  . . So it was really a shift towards creating a fair and just system without compromising public safety,” Gill said.

Lee pointed out that nonviolent people released on bail can still inflict harm on society.

Gill replied that the changes to the state bail system last year did not eliminate cash bail. They just provided another option, he said.

“In Salt Lake County, we have a really robust pretrial services system. So I can put on an ankle monitor. I can give you restrictions. I can put you in treatment. I can put all sorts of conditions on [release from jail]. And if you violate and commit a felony, then I get to take you back in [detention].”

“Representative Mike Schultz with whom we will speak coming up told the Deseret News that the system currently is broken on all sides. . . . Is he off base there?” Lee asked.

“I would have to say he is,” Gill said. “. . . And so I’ve asked the other people who want to repeal this to say, give me the specific examples. . . . It is working for the three largest population counties [Utah, Salt Lake and Davis counties] without compromising public safety. So we’re really genuinely trying to figure out what is their concern. What is the actual harm that they’re trying to address because we haven’t found any substantive, factual [harm] to which they can point.”

The other side of the argument

Rep. Schultz also joined Lee to discuss why the bail system should return to the way things were before the new statute went into effect in October.

“[Salt Lake County District Attorney] Sim Gill said that the past four months since [House Bill 206] went into place, that everything’s been good, that things have been fine. Justice has been done and the community has been safe. Is he off-base there?” Lee asked.

“I couldn’t disagree further,” Schultz said. “First off, before I get into that, I just want to point out this is not a repeal and go back to the old system. It’s repeal, push pause for a minute and come together with the stakeholders who are all over the place right now. In regards to everything’s just fine, I will say that I’ve talked to every stakeholder group, and none of them believe that things can stay as is. There’s major changes that needed to be done to [HB]206.”

Schultz agreed with Gill that Salt Lake County has a robust pretrial-release program that is working.

“But that is not consistent around the state. In fact, you have the Davis county prosecutor who is currently challenging the constitutionality of HB206 and some of the language in the statute,” Schultz said.

“The claim is that both Troy Rawlings with Davis County, as well as the counterpart in Utah County, are on the side of Sam Gill,” Lee replied.

“I do know for a fact that Davis county prosecutors are currently challenging and have challenged the constitutionality of that statute,” Schultz said. “. . . public safety is at risk. Honestly, I could not be more clear on that.”

Schultz said the best way forward is to revert to the bail system that was in place before the reforms began in October.

“We push pause to where we were four months ago, just four months ago . . . and put together a working group and do it the right way. . . . Not these half-baked ideas that come late in the [legislative] session, and nobody’s coalescing around an idea. That’s the wrong way to be doing public safety,” Schultz said. 

 

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.