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Legislator defends change to Utah's stalking code opposed by victim advocates


A bill proposing changes to Utah’s stalking code was supported by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, but victim advocates argue the change would make it harder for victims to get protection. (KUTV){p}{/p}
A bill proposing changes to Utah’s stalking code was supported by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, but victim advocates argue the change would make it harder for victims to get protection. (KUTV)

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A bill proposing changes to Utah’s stalking code was supported by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, but victim advocates argue the change would make it harder for victims to get protection.

Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Herriman, says she heard from a constituent who said they were wrongfully accused of stalking under the current code.

She’s made some amendments to this new legislation after receiving some feedback, but victim advocates still fear the bill will put more burden on victims.

“I was really upset, because I have seen more stalking than I ever have, in 2020, in my nine years of being an advocate," said Alexandra Merritt with the Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic.

She doesn’t agree with House Bill 21’s stalking amendments.

Stalking is extremely hard to prove as it is now," Merritt said.

But Pierucci says her proposed changes will eliminate vagueness and ambiguity in the current code. The legislation would require that acts used as proof of stalking “evidence a continuity of purpose."

“Acts together, like I said, evidence this continuity of purpose. Intent. So we’re adding very broad intent language to our code," Pierucci said.

The same language is used in stalking laws in at least 16 other states, Pierucci said. Her initial bill would have increased the number of acts needed to constitute stalking from two to three.

Pierucci said she got input from stakeholders when considering the changes, including victims, victim advocates, and defense attorneys. Based on input from prosecutors, she decided to amend her bill and keep the number of acts required as proof at two.

As for the rest of the bill, Pierucci said, “I haven’t heard that pushback as much on the 'continuity of purpose' language."

So, what does Pierucci say to people in the community who feel her proposed change will make it harder for victims to get protection?

I understand the concern," she said. "I feel like there is a lot of misinformation out about this bill right now, honestly."

“In the instances that have been described to me, and even in working with the district attorney's office, all of the ones that I have heard would still count as stalking under this bill," Pierucci added.

Merritt, the victim advocate, said making it harder to prove stalking in Utah is "ridiculous."

“The standard already is so high to get a stalking injunction in civil cases that making it harder is ridiculous, in my mind," she said.

I think this does the exact opposite of what our victims need. They need more resources; they need more protection and they need a state that believes them."
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The bill has been recommended by two committees. As of Wednesday it is on the calendar for a third reading in the House.

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