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Lawmakers side with police, pass bill targeting Utah County Attorney’s progressive policies

Posted at 5:46 PM, Mar 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 19:46:40-05

PROVO, Utah — For months, police officers and former prosecutors have been increasingly outspoken in their criticism of Utah County Attorney David Leavitt, accusing him of being soft on crime and making the county more dangerous.

Now state lawmakers have passed House Bill 257, motivated by Leavitt’s policies.

“I’ll just acknowledge that there’s no question that that bill is a direct result of some of the policies that we’ve seen from (Leavitt),” said Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork. “I had a chance to meet with some of the prosecutors. I was concerned.”

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Some former prosecutors said they left the Utah County Attorney’s Office as a result of Leavitt’s practice of looking for a way to file less serious charges against suspects in Justice Court, often ignoring a defendant’s criminal history.

Data compiled by former prosecutor Curtis Larson shows the county’s criminal filings in Justice Court have progressively increased since Leavitt took office. Criminal filings in District Court have decreased.

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Proponents of the bill said they have no doubt that the change is disproportionate compared to other counties.

“Mr. Leavitt, at the present time, has indicated that he will basically do what he wants,” Larson said. “I don't believe that the policies and procedures that have been implemented by David Leavitt actually correspond with the values of the county.”

HB 257 prohibits prosecuting attorneys from filing misdemeanor offenses in Justice Court if the facts support the filing of the charged offense as a felony in District Court.

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The bill does not impose penalties for a county attorney who violates prosecutorial standards.

“Ultimately, it’s up to voters how they feel about the job that the county attorney is doing,” said Rep. Kay Christofferson, R-Lehi. “You know, (Leavitt) wasn’t real happy about this... but I think that he can accept what we’ve done.”

Both Christofferson and McKell said they did not want to overstep by limiting a county attorney’s ability to practice prosecutorial discretion.

“We try not to make it personal,” Christofferson said. “We just wanted to say, this is something that is happened here that we can see, because we're close to it in Utah County.”

Leavitt is a Republican who has not been shy about sharing his progressive ideas to reform the criminal justice system.

A spokesperson for Leavitt sent an email to FOX 13 News, indicating he did not oppose the final version of the bill.

“Utah County Attorney David Leavitt joined all County Attorneys in the State in opposing the initial bill as written," the statement read. "As ultimately amended and passed, Mr. Leavitt did not oppose the bill, nor did any of the other 28 elected prosecutors. The bill merely clarifies jurisdictional issues as to where alleged crimes are filed."

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