Two amendments to the Utah Constitution are included on Tuesday's ballot and both are worthy of approval. One would give state judges more power to deny bail in certain cases. The other would clear up miscellaneous items and language in the Constitution.
The amendments - labeled Propositions 1 and 2 - are not part of the tax initiatives A, B, and C, on the same ballot and should not be confused with them. One problem with too many questions on a ballot is that it tends to confuse voters and causes some to simply vote "no" to everything. Utahns need to be careful and discriminating in this instance.Proposition 1 would give state judges the power to deny bail in cases where there is both "substantial evidence" to support the charges AND the accused is determined to be a "substantial danger" to self, other persons, or the community, or is considered likely to flee.
The State Constitution currently allows denial of bail only in cases involving killings or when a crime is committed while the accused already is on probation or parole, or is awaiting trial for another crime.
Opponents argue against expanded power to deny bail because it does not indicate what kinds of crimes would qualify for this treatment and does not specify more clearly what "substantial evidence" is supposed to mean.
Opponents also worry that keeping a person jailed before trial injures the "innocent until proven guilty" principle and violates due process. Those are legitimate concerns. Yet people involved in capital cases already can be denied bail. Does that violate the presumption of innocence? If bail can be denied in one cases, why not in another if there is a threat to the community?
Too often the rights of the defendant take precedence over all others. Yet the rights of the community also must be considered in the balance. That's what the Bail Amendment allows judges to do.
Under the U.S. Constitution, federal judges already have more power to deny bail than Utah's state judges. Allowing more leeway on this issue hardly will lead to a breakdown in the judicial process.
Proposition 2, is one of those housekeeping amendments that turn up periodically in the years-long process of revising and updating the State Constitution. It removes archaic language, removes several provisions declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, and makes language in the Constitution conform to existing practices.
Both of these amendments deserve approval by voters, who should be careful not to mix them up with the tax initiatives.