Read time: 3 minutes

Utah Bill Will Legalize Drivers Running Over Street Protesters

Guess which party wants to make it okay to run over a protestor if you're "in fear of your safety" while inside your car.
Utah Bill Will Legalize Drivers Running Over Street Protesters
The car used to kill Heather Heyer Image from: Getty Images

Utah lawmakers are being condemned this week for advancing a bill with provisions penalizing demonstrators who obstruct traffic during a "riot" while absolving any driver who injures or kills a protester, as long as the motorist was fleeing in fear of their life, which critics denounced as an attempt to legalize running people over.

John Hawkins, the Republican lawmaker who introduced the bill that the state legislature will consider during its upcoming general session, claimed that he doesn't "think that purposefully using your vehicle to cause bodily injury is a normal situation that falls into this bill."

But William Carlson, chief criminal justice policy adviser for the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, pointed out that "creating a criminal defense for drivers" would make it "much more complicated" to prosecute drivers such as James Fields, the "white supremacist who in 2017 plowed his car into a crowd of peaceful anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia," killing Heather Heyer.

That's because Fields might have qualified "for the legal defense proposed by Hawkins" if it were deemed that he was "fleeing from a riot and 'under a reasonable belief' that he [was] in danger of serious injury or death," the Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley quipped that "Utah legislators are considering a bill that would let drivers off the hook for mowing down protesters."

Critics say that decriminalizing vehicular homicide in some instances, as state legislators have proposed, might encourage violence against protesters, especially given that, as the ACLU's Marina Lowe put it, "one person's protest is another person's riot."

Utah legislators' lenient position on deadly car attacks is related, some observers noted, to their disapproving views on civil disobedience. Carlson argued that the bill would "create an affirmative defense for... individuals who may disagree with the protests."

A Trump supporter with an effigy of a dead Antifa person on his car attends a pro-Trump rally on November 1, 2020 in West Nyack, New York. (Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

"The legislation... would also make it a third-degree felony to obstruct traffic during a riot," the Tribune reported. "Protesters found guilty of the offense could face up to five years in prison."

According to the newspaper, the bill is "drawing opposition from prosecutors, defense attorneys, and civil liberties advocates," who argue that it would criminalize "one of the defining features of American protests."

The Tribune explained the legislation's repressive implications:

While Utah law already prohibits obstructing a roadway or sidewalk, Hawkins' bill would elevate this behavior to a felony if it's part of a riot. State statute considers a riot to be a gathering of people who are engaging in "tumultuous or violent conduct" that can cause public alarm, and defense attorney Mark Moffat told lawmakers that a broad interpretation of this definition could encompass almost any demonstration.

Demonstrations "often involve hundreds, sometimes thousands, of individuals who are marching down the street in protest of a particular event that occurred in our community or nationally," Moffat said.

If this bill were passed into law, Moffat added, "Every single one of those people could be charged with a felony."

Bagley captured what he considers the reactionary nature of the Utah bill in a cartoon:

"Instead of addressing systematic problems in our society that led to protests of last summer," one critic tweeted, "GOP lawmakers want to increase penalties for dissent, while allowing motorists to run over protesters with no legal sanction."

Republished from Common Dreams (Kenny Stancil, staff writer) under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Can you help us out?

For 16 years we have been exposing Washington lies and untangling media deceit. We work 7 days a week, 16 hours a day for our labor of love, but with rising hosting and associated costs, we need your help! Could you donate $20 for 2020? Please consider a one time or recurring donation of whatever amount you can spare, or consider subscribing for an ad-free experience. It will be greatly appreciated and help us continue our mission of exposing the real FAKE NEWS!

More C&L Coverage

Discussion

New Commenting System

Our comments are now powered by Insticator. In order to comment you will need to create an Insticator account. The process is quick and simple. Please note that the ability to comment with a C&L site account is no longer available.

We welcome relevant, respectful comments. Any comments that are sexist or in any other way deemed hateful by our staff will be deleted and constitute grounds for a ban from posting on the site. Please refer to our Terms of Service (revised 3/17/2016) for information on our posting policy.

Please Do Not Use the Login Link at the Top of the Site.

In order to comment you must use an Insticator account. To register an account, enter your comment and click the post button. A dialog will then appear allowing you create your account.

We will be retiring our Crooks and Liars user account system in January, 2021.

Thank you.
C&L Team