New Legislation Hopes To Prosecute People Who Don't Intervene In Emergency

Jan 24, 2018


Salt Lake Democratic Representative Brian King wants people to stop looking the other way.

His House Bill 125 makes bystanders to crimes or emergency situations responsible for stepping in where they can to prevent harm. But that doesn’t mean jumping between a fistfight, or performing CPR on a stranger. Instead, King says assisting in an emergency can be  as simple as making a phone call.

"It doesn't require to put themselves at risk. It doesn't require that they do something when there's something less than serious bodily injury being threatened to someone in the presence or that they witness," King said. "It just requires that a person when they know a crime is being committed or about to be committed or an emergency occurring that they are aware of that involves serious bodily, that a person who is able to provide reasonable assistant to do so. And reasonable assistance is, I think, the great majority of the time quite honestly is going to be simply summoning help, dialing 911." 

HB125 classifies bystander inaction as a class B misdemeanor. If enacted, the measure would mirror laws in 10 other states, including California, Washington and Massachusetts. The subject of the bill was brought to King’s attention by Prof. Amos Guiora, an instructor at the University of Utah SJ Quinney College of Law.

Guiora helped King develop the bill over the course of a year. The son of Holocaust survivors, Guiora’s own research has focused on the lack of bystander intervention in a historical context.

But Guiora says one of the clearest examples in the present day is in the context of sexual assault cases.

"The perpetrator, the one who's committing the crime, from my perspective, the bystander facilitates the perpetrator's actions by not calling 911," Guiora said. "And the context of the legislation that Rep. King has introduced, dialing 911 really sets a low bar. And so when you see sexual assault, sexual violence, which we know is so much out there tragically today, all you need to do is dial 911."

King described the bill as a tool for prosecutors to evaluate what he called a “tag-along crime,” which arises from the original crime or a medical emergency with serious consequences. The bill has yet to be presented in committee, but King anticipates critics will push back against “legislating morality.” He says that argument doesn’t worry him.

"We do that all the time," King said. "And not only do we do it all the time, it's a good thing that we do it all the time. There are somethings, and we are evolving with society, we need to look carefully into our hearts and minds and make careful - these decisions need to be made carefully, I'm not being flippant here - when we do legislate morality, we need to do it carefully, we need to do it thoughtfully, we need to do it in a way that protects each other. We need to do it in a way that doesn't overreach or interfere unnecessarily with our lives. We're debating these things all the time."

King hopes to have the bill assigned to a committee by Thursday morning.