Hundreds of misdemeanor crimes in Utah could no longer carry jail time

Posted at 4:46 PM, Jan 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-09 11:17:58-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Did you know you can do jail time in Utah for selling expired cosmetics at a swap meet? Or for lying about your age at a tanning salon? Or for feeding table scraps to a pig?

Hundreds of class C misdemeanor crimes could be reclassified as infractions, removing the threat of jail time under a proposal being advanced by the Utah Sentencing Commission. Instead, you would pay a fine.

By a unanimous vote, the commission forwarded a list of hundreds of crimes to the Utah State Legislature that it recommended be reduced to infractions. FOX 13 obtained the list which is mostly traffic and boating offenses. At their Wednesday meeting, the commission reclassified others (no proof of insurance was recommended to be an infraction, but public intoxication would remain a misdemeanor).

Some of the crimes that carry possible jail terms raise eyebrows, like not informing the Driver License Division that you've moved, pouring more than the state-mandated 2.5 ounces of liquor in a mixed drink, destroying a campaign sign, or handing out a free cigarette (a crime that apparently applies to manufacturers).

"I think very few people understand that something that us a class C misdemeanor, something as simple as speeding, could carry up to three months in jail," said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City.

The reclassification of misdemeanor crimes is part of an overall push by state lawmakers to reform Utah's criminal justice system. Last year, many felonies were reduced to misdemeanors. Proponents argue it clears out overcrowded courts and jails and focuses on rehabilitation over incarceration.

"It makes sense," said Peter Stirba, a trial attorney and chairman of the Utah Sentencing Commission. "Most of these things clearly are not criminal in nature and do not justify jail time."

The Utah Sentencing Commission voted to keep some crimes a misdemeanor, including elder abuse, animal cruelty and public intoxication. While he voted with the reforms, North Salt Lake Police Chief Craig Black did express some reservations about going too far with reclassifying crimes and removing the discretion that police and prosecutors could have.

"It does start to concern me when we start to whittle away at these tools," he told FOX 13. "Because it may hinder a positive outcome in a case at some point."

Sen. Thatcher acknowledged the actual risk of people doing jail time for a class C misdemeanor was low, but said it was important for the list to be considered.

"Why are we threatening jail time for things we don't actually want people to go to jail for?" he said.

The legislature will consider misdemeanor reclassification in the upcoming session.

See the list of offenses recommended to be reduced from an infraction to a misdemeanor: