It has been awhile since our last post so let's review a few things that have happened in the last couple of months and take a look at some things on the horizon.
Wasatch County Primary Debate and Results
We hosted a Republican Primary Debate with Alliance for a Better Utah (ABU) for prosecutor candidates in Wasatch County on June 5. All four candidates participated in the debate, and we joined ABU to discuss the debate on their Better Utah Broadcast. Incumbent Scott Sweat won the election with 35.22% (1403 votes) of the vote, beating runner-up Tyler Dow by 290 votes. These results tell us that Wasatch County wants change, but the large candidate pool diluted the votes for change.
Prosecutorial Oversight in Salt Lake County
Our Prosecutor Candidate Questionnaire prompted a discussion on prosecutorial oversight in Salt Lake County. Both prosecutor candidates, Sim Gill and Nathan Evershed, support an internal Conviction Integrity Unit and intend on creating one if elected.
Public Comment on Parole and Probation Guidelines
House Bill 291 was passed in Utah's 2018 legislative session. It required the Utah Sentencing Commission to draft Supervision Length Guidelines for individuals on probation and parole. The Utah Sentencing Commission published the drafted guidelines here. The Commission is accepting public comment on the guidelines until September 2. You may email your comments to email@example.com. The Commission will vote on the final draft during a public meeting on September 13, 2018, in suite 330 of the Senate Building at the Utah Capitol Complex.
Law and Justice Conference at BYU
Event description from the organizer, "As part of its recent Law and Justice Initiative, the J. Reuben Clark Law School is hosting its first ever Law and Justice Conference on Friday, September 21, 2018. This one-day conference is intended to foster discussion between various constituencies in the criminal justice system and within the BYU community, to increase public awareness of current topics in criminal justice and criminal justice reform, and to explore ways in which the Law and Justice Initiative can engage with criminal justice issues at the local level. To that end, speakers and panelists from both state and federal government, as well as those from academia and private practice, will speak on a wide range of recent and developing issues in criminal law, including pretrial reform, sentencing, the Utah Justice Reinvestment Act, and the state of indigent defense in Utah. There will also be a panel of state and federal appellate practitioners covering recent notable criminal opinions. The Law and Justice Conference is open to the public, and CLE approval is pending."
Registration details will be posted soon, and once they are you can find them on our website's Get Involved page on the Smart Justice Utah calendar.
Next Prosecutor Debates in the Works
We are currently working out details on the next debates for county prosecutors. These debates will be scheduled for mid-September. We expect to have dates, times, and locations announced within the next week, so stay tuned!
The Republican nominating conventions from last week through last night culled a few County Attorney candidates from the primary elections. One candidate decided to drop from the race while others failed to get the Republican nomination and did not collect signatures to secure a spot on the primary ballot. A list of candidates that collected signatures or declared intent to do so can be found here at the Utah.gov website by scrolling to the bottom of the page.
Davis County candidate Troy S. Rawlings received the party nomination and will appear on the general election ballot. Neither David M. Cole nor Samuel Lauren Knight gathered signatures to be on the primary ballot. As a result, Davis County will no longer require a GOP primary election for County Attorney. This drops the total number of counties with a contested primary election and an uncontested general election for County Attorney from five to four.
In Kane County, Robert Van Dyke received the GOP nomination. Opponent Van Mackelprang collected enough signatures to get on the primary ballot. You can hear both Van Dyke's and Mackelprang's speeches at the convention through the Kane County Republican Party Facebook livestream, which begins around the 1:40:00 mark with Van Dyke and Mackelprang following.
To some surprise, incumbent Scott Garrett in Iron County dropped out of the race and endorsed party nominee Chad Dotson. Candidate Scott Burns gathered enough signatures to stay on the ballot and challenge Dotson in the primary. The Iron County GOP recently published Burn's answers to a few criminal justice questions, but, as of April 18, is still waiting on answers from Dotson.
Uintah County Republicans nominated Greg Lamb to represent the party. He will face incumbent G. Mark Thomas in the primary election because Thomas gathered enough signatures to be on the primary ballot.
Utah County candidates Chad Grunander and David Leavitt will both stay on the ballot because neither received enough delegate votes to secure the sole party nomination. The winner of the primary will face Libertarian candidate W. Andrew McCullough in the general election. You can listen to Grunander's and Leavitt's convention speeches through the Utah County Republican Party Facebook livestream. Grunander begins speaking at the 00:23:43 mark with Leavitt following.
The Wasatch County Republican Convention was held on April 17, but results have not been posted yet. Candidates Kit Kosakowski, Scott Sweat, Tyler Dow, and Tyler Berg all collected enough signatures to appear the primary ballot. Wasatch County candidate forum speeches and discussions are available through the Wasatch County Republican Party Facebook livestream. The speeches begin with Kosakowski at the 00:12:05 mark with the others following.
In summary, the following counties will have contested primaries but no contested general elections for the County Attorney position: Iron, Kane, Uintah, and Wasatch.
On April 10 we sent a questionnaire to every county prosecutor candidate in Utah.
The questionnaire considers three topics: mass incarceration, racial disparities, and prosecutorial misconduct. It gives candidates an opportunity to detail their positions on criminal justice reform, from whether racial disparities exist in their county's criminal justice system (they definitely exist in Utah) to what they will do to reduce incarceration rates. You can find out who your local prosecutor candidate is with our candidate tracker.
Candidates have until May 15 to complete the survey. We will publish the results shortly thereafter on our website so voters can make informed decisions during the upcoming primary elections on June 26 and the following general elections on November 6.
2018 is a year for transformation.
This year we can demand criminal justice reform, ask tough questions, and make elected prosecutors answer to the voters. This year is crucial to set the stage for the next election cycle and pave the way for reform-minded prosecutors to improve Utah’s criminal justice system.
Elected county prosecutors exercise a significant influence over the rest of the prosecutors in their office. They can shape office policy and culture to better serve their communities and address issues in the criminal justice system. A recent example is Philadelphia, where the newly-elected prosecutor has changed policies on filing charges, sentencing considerations, and jail alternatives with an aim to end mass incarceration. This approach considers the literal and figurative cost of incarceration to both the incarnated person and to the community.
In Utah, 2018 presents an opportunity for voters to choose reform-minded prosecutors that will serve four-year terms. County prosecutor candidates had until March 15 to file for candidacy. After many calls to County Clerk offices and scouring election websites, we assembled a final list of declared candidates. Our 2018 Utah Elected Prosecutor Candidate Tracker lists candidates by county, political affiliation, contact information, and whether a county election is contested. Keep in mind that this list includes only those candidates who filed with their County Clerk to run for election, and there may be write-in candidates during the general election.
Historically, Utah has had a very low number of contested general elections for county prosecutors. Uncontested elections are unremarkable in many counties, as noted in this 2014 headline, Unopposed Races the Norm In Box Elder County. We have a list of uncontested general elections available here: Uncontested Prosecutor Elections by County Since 2006. Information on uncontested county elections is still being collected.
The 2018 Utah Elected Prosecutor Candidate Tracker considers an election contested where either a single primary election or the general election is contested. This year, five counties have a single contested primary election where the only candidates are from the same political party and the primary election will chose only one of those candidates to represent the party in November’s general election: Davis County, Iron County, Kane County, Uintah County, and Wasatch County.
Interestingly, Grand County and Morgan County do not have political affiliations for elected county offices. Their unaffiliated primaries shrink the candidate pool from whatever number of candidates declared to run for county prosecutor down to two candidates for the general election. The other counties with contested general elections include candidates from more than one political party running for county prosecutor, which include Emery County, Salt Lake County, and Utah County.
The Candidate Tracker acknowledges that in Piute County, Rich County, and Wayne County no one is running for county prosecutor. A vacancy means that a county prosecutor would be appointed, which is not unusual in less populated counties. Most unusual is Daggett County, which is the only county in Utah that contracts with an attorney or law firm to fulfill the duties of the county prosecutor.
Overall in 2018, of the 29 counties in Utah there will be only 10 contested elections, and 5 of those counties feature candidates from only one political party, meaning the primary election will determine the eventual winner. In 2018, 83% of general elections for county prosecutors in Utah will be uncontested. This includes Weber County, where the only candidate and incumbent believes that no opposition means that he has "done a good enough job" during his previous four-year term.
Only 5 general elections for county prosecutors are contested, but those outcomes will impact 57% of Utahns.
Counties with uncontested elections can still question their candidate and determine where he or she stands on criminal justice reform. The candidate’s answers can be compared to his or her actions as the elected prosecutor, which will be useful during the next election cycle in 2022.
To help voters make sense of county prosecutor candidates, Utah’s Campaign for Smart Justice will submit questionnaires to each candidate to gather positions on criminal justice reform issues. Please email us questions you would like answered so we can include them in the questionnaire. In counties with contested elections, we will encourage public forums so that candidates can speak openly with voters and clarify their positions on criminal justice reform.
The U.S. shares 5% of the world’s population but houses 25% of the world’s prison population. Additionally, those incarcerated are disproportionally minority populations, poor, or both.
Utah has made efforts to reduce incarceration through legislation passed in 2015 known as the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI). The legislation is geared to reverse Utah’s trend of prison population growth at six times faster than the national average. The JRI changed sentencing and parole guidelines and created program oversight to reduce incarceration and recidivism.
Legislation is one key step to reduce incarceration rates, but it is not a panacea. Fortunately, more can be done to address Utah’s continued high incarceration rates and racial disparities.
The first step in a criminal prosecution involves the prosecutor, the most powerful actor in the criminal justice system. A prosecutor decides what charges to file, what plea deal to offer, if any, and argues whether a person should be released from jail on bond. The prosecutor, known as either the County Attorney or District Attorney, determines criminal justice policy within the county office and can influence policy at the state level.
Most Utah counties elect their prosecutor, but most elections are uncontested. This allows tried and failed tough on crime policies to continue unchecked. Uncontested prosecutorial elections also allow candidates to avoid tough questions, such as how a candidate plans to address racial disparities in local prosecutions, or how a candidate would address prosecutorial misconduct in their office.
The upcoming 2018 elections create an opportunity for constituents to ask their local prosecutors about criminal justice reform issues, even if the election is uncontested.
An informed public that can hold prosecutors accountable is key for a healthy and just democracy.
The last step in a criminal case is just as important as the first step, which often involves the Board of Pardons and Parole.
The parole board determines when an incarcerated person may have a parole hearing and whether a person will be released from prison. In Utah, the parole board uses a guideline to make these determinations, but it may deviate from the guidelines on a case-by-case basis. This means that people with the same sentences for the same crimes can have different outcomes, notably in incarceration length.
Parole board determinations in Utah are final and cannot be appealed. Additionally, lawyers or other advocates for a parolee can only appear in particular circumstances. This limits a person’s ability to sufficiently represent themselves at a hearing and precludes challenging a seemingly unjust or inconsistent decision.
Fair parole hearings and consistent decisions are essential to respect a person’s rights and create successful outcomes for re-entry into the community.
Criminal justice reform is already happening around the country, which includes pioneering prosecutorial oversight right here in Utah. The ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice in Utah will address criminal justice reform issues for just, fair, and safe outcomes for individuals and communities alike.