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Proposal in legislature seeks to change Utah's stalking laws

Posted at 5:25 PM, Jan 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 19:25:58-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A new bill introduced in the Utah State Legislature aims to amend the state's definition of stalking.

HB21, which passed through a committee Wednesday, adds the language 'continuity of purpose' to Utah's current stalking statute.

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The bill is sponsored by Rep. Candice Pierucci of Herriman. She said the addition would provide clarity to the existing law.

"This was the recommendation after doing a 50-state analysis. We found that Utah does have relatively vague stalking code," Pierucci said. "And so, [we] looked at some of the things that other states are doing that are working and one of those was this continuity of purpose language."

Under the current statute, a victim must show a 'course of conduct,' meaning two or more encounters or incidences with a perpetrator that causes emotional distress or fear. The new language would require victims to show that a clear, targeted pattern of abuse has occurred before a court issued protective order is granted.

"Not that the alleged perpetrator has to say, 'I am trying to stalk you' that is not the case," Pierucci added. "It's if their acts evidence a continuity of purpose."

Pierucci brought the bill forward after a constituent contacted her, claiming he was falsely accused and later arrested for stalking.

"The officer on his case said the law is so vague, and there is so much ambiguity, that met the two acts requirement," Pierucci said.

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Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said the addition will do little to change how prosecutors currently view stalking.

"It is actually codifying what was already part of our process," Gill said. "It's implied, this continuity of purpose is implied."

The bill has received significant push back from stalking victims, and advocates, who spoke at committee hearings Wednesday.

"I think it's a slap in the face," said South Salt Lake City Council Member Corey Thomas. "I am very hurt by it and I feel like our lawmakers don't support stalking victims."

After being elected to the South Salt Lake City Council, Thomas became a victim of stalking herself.

"We ended up going through the whole legal process to get a criminal stalking injunction," she said.

The injunction was granted, but Thomas said the process was hard fought.

"It has been an extremely excruciating process through the legal system," Thomas said.

She worries the new language will make it harder for victims to get the legal resources they need.

"It's already a stressful situation to be in, and then to have it even more restricted, I think it could discourage victims from reporting it," she added.

Gill said victims should not worry about getting the help they need, if the bill passes.

"Our commitment to them is not going to alter and our analysis is not going to alter," he said. "We will be here to provide that support so they can rely upon us."