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Human traffickers could be put to death under new bill

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Posted at 9:28 PM, Feb 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-02 23:28:54-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- Criminals convicted of human trafficking could soon be eligible for the death penalty.

On Tuesday a bill was passed by a House committee that would give prosecutors the right to seek the death penalty in any human trafficking case in which a victim dies.

"That could be you're the one that coerced him or kidnapped him into the trafficking, maybe you are the coyote that is driving a truck load of people and maybe they fell in the truck and died in the back of the truck," said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, who proposed House Bill 136. "I think justice is deserved and I think we need to deliver justice for these victims."

Those in the community against the bill say the death penalty is not the answer.

"The death penalty is not going to solve the problem, I think we need to look at real solutions to the problem and not just simply trying to expand the use of the death penalty," said Jean Hill of the Catholic Diocese.

According to the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, prosecuting a capitol murder case from trial to execution costs about $1.6 million.

"It doesn't make sense that we are not giving those resources to the individuals that are truly affected," said Virginia Ward, of Journey of Hope.

Ray said not one dollar of state money would be spent as a result of this bill. It's up to each individual county prosecutor to decide if they have the justification and resources to pursue the death penalty.

"It's not always about sending messages and trying to prevent, it’s about punishing somebody that has committed the worst of crimes," said Tom Ross, who represents the Utah Chiefs of Police Association.

When it comes to criminals being sentenced to the death penalty in Utah, it's very rare regardless of the crime. Only one person has been sentenced to death in the last 15 years and only seven since 1976.

This bill now moves onto the full house.