Two of the main drafters of Utah's strong child sex-abuse law are at loggerheads about whether the measure should be loosened.
U.S. Attorney Brent D. Ward is opposed to a recent recommendation that HB209, the Child Kidnapping and Sexual Abuse Act of 1983, be amended to allow probation to some defendants, or to let a judge's sentence be overturned by a probation specialist."It would allow the child molester to qualify for probation, whereas under the existing law that's not possible," Ward told the Deseret News. "There has to be a five-, 10- or 15-year mandatory prison term right now." The existing law allows an exception only for cases of incest.
But Assistant Utah Attorney General Robert N. Parrish, who prosecuted the Allen B. Hadfield case in Lehi, favors a revision. Parrish, who also helped draft the original bill, HR209, says the restrictions proposed would keep dangerous criminals behind bars.
Hadfield was convicted of sodomizing and sexually abusing his children, but has maintained his innocence. He was put on probation and ordered to undergo therapy.
A select committee set up by the Utah Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice recommended changing the mandatory jail requirement for non-incest offenders. The law is considered the toughest in the country.
Proposals to change it will be considered by the commission Jan. 5 at a 4 p.m. meeting in the Capitol. The commission can't change it; it can only recommend changes to the Legislature.
Ward worries that the worst kinds of offenders - child rapists and sodomizers - might get probation. "I'm talking about well-intentioned judges who do not understand that this type of behavior cannot be cured in a treatment setting, except in the rarest of cases."
He said he has seen the very thing he fears happen in the Hadfield case. A year ago, the Lehi resident was convicted of sexually abusing his 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.
An exception to the minimum prison time rule allows probation in some incest cases. Ward charged that 4th District Judge Cullen Y. Christensen "twisted (the exception) into the form of a pretzel in order to allow Hadfield to qualify for a probationary sentence."
Parrish, the chairman of the special committee, agrees that Hadfield should not have been released on probation.
The Utah Supreme Court found that the sentence was not an abuse of judicial discretion, he said. "If it wasn't, I don't know what is."
But he said that under the proposed changes, rigid requirements would be imposed for sentences below the minimum prison term, and prosecutors could appeal a judge's decision.
In fact, he said, one proposal would allow the Board of Pardons to overrule the judge's sentence in a sex-abuse case. That would be done in the name of equalizing sentences.
"Basically there are some movements afoot from various angles to repeal mandatory sentencing," Parrish said. "My approach on the committee was if people feel there is some need for a change, to try to come up with some kind of a compromise."
On the question of whether some non-incest criminal could get off with no prison time at all, Parrish said, "What I've done single-handedly is put enough conditions in there (the recommendation) that if the judges were to honestly apply those kinds of exceptions, there would be very, very few offenders who would ever qualify for probation."