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Advances in Juvenile Justice Reform | UT

Utah: 2013 | 2012 | 2011 



  • Adjudication and Sentencing — Utah Abolishes Life without Parole for Most Offenses Committed by Youth Under 18: Utah eliminated the sentence of life without parole for most offenses committed by youth under age 18. The legislation was spurred by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, although Utah was not required to change its sentences because it did not have any laws mandating life without parole sentences for youth. Individuals sentenced to life without parole for offenses committed when they were under age 18 are now eligible for parole review after 25 years. S.B. 228/Act No. 81, signed into law March 22, 2013; effective May 14, 2013.
  • Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — Utah Increases Oversight of Youth Courts: Utah modified provisions relating to Utah Youth Courts, adding a requirement that youth courts must be certified in order to accept referrals, and allowing records of youth court proceedings to be shared only with the referring agency, the victim and the juvenile court. The law is a result of efforts to standardize the practices and program requirements of youth courts across the state. S.B. 119/Act No. 27, signed into law March 21, 2013; effective May 14, 2013.
  • Youth in the Adult System — Utah Amends Provisions for Judicial Transfer of Youth: In an effort to limit the number of youth transferred to adult court, a new Utah law prohibits a judge from transferring a youth to adult court if there is clear and convincing evidence that such transfer would be contrary to the best interest of the youth and the public. The youth may present evidence and, in making his or her determination whether to transfer a youth, a judge must consider two new factors: the number and nature of the youth’s prior adjudications in juvenile court and whether public safety would be better served by keeping the youth in juvenile court or transferring the youth to adult court. H.B. 105/Act No. 186, signed into law March 27, 2013; effective May 14, 2013.


  • Competency — Utah Establishes Standards and Procedures for Juvenile Competency Proceedings: Utah enacted new standards and procedures for juvenile competency proceedings. A motion for an inquiry into a youth’s competency may be filed by the youth, the prosecutor, a guardian ad litem, or any person having custody of the youth, or the court may raise the issue at any time. The court may order an evaluation of a youth, to be followed by a competency hearing. Any statement made by the youth during the evaluation may not be used as evidence of guilt for the underlying charge. If it is determined that the youth is incompetent, but that competency may be attained, the youth must be held in the least restrictive setting during the implementation of an “attainment plan.” If the youth does not attain competency within one year of a finding of incompetency, the case must be dismissed without prejudice. H.B. 393 Substitute/Act No. 316, signed into law March 22, 2012; effective May 8, 2012.


  • Alternatives to Detention and Youth Prisons — State Agencies, Courts Create Alternative to Detention for Runaway Foster Youth: Stakeholders in Utah undertook a collaborative effort to prevent youth who leave their child welfare placement without authorization from being placed in detention. A joint effort between child welfare agencies, juvenile justice agencies, and the courts resulted in the creation of a mechanism that allows judges and law enforcement to make use of an alternative to detention called Youth Services. The mechanism—available statewide—is currently in use in Salt Lake County and has resulted in a decline in the use of valid court orders to detain status offenders. Juvenile court judges may now sign an order for law enforcement to take the youth to a Youth Service Center instead of signing a warrant for detention. Youth Service Centers provide services such as counseling in a non-locked, non-punitive environment.

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