Panel OKs plan to narrow stalking law over victim opposition

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A proposal to narrow the legal definition of stalking cleared an early hurdle at the Utah Legislature Wednesday, despite opposition from victims and advocates.

Republican Rep. Candice Pierucci said she decided to sponsor the bill after hearing about an unfair arrest of a Utah man who had contacted his ex-girlfriend twice, once in a letter saying he had no hard feelings and again to ask her to take a photo of his family off social media.

“He was clearly not stalking his ex-girlfriend,” she said. Though the man did not end up facing criminal charges, he had to post bail to get out of jail and pay for an attorney, she said.

Pierucci said she dug into the issue and found the law was vague. So after studying with state criminal-justice officials, she proposed adding a requirement that the alleged acts have to show a “continuity of purpose.” She originally proposed increasing the number of incidents to three, but changed that Wednesday.

Victims and advocates objected to the bill, saying it’s already hard enough to pin down stalkers who can find and torment their victims in a multitude of ways, online and in person.

“Stalking is on the rise in Utah,” said Alex Merritt, victim advocate with the Utah Crime Victims Legal Clinic. “I think we’re doing the exact opposite of what the state wants to do.”

Prosecutor Will Carlson said the change would still allow authorities to charge stalkers. Pierucci said 16 other states use the same language.

A panel of lawmakers unanimously approved the proposal, which now moves to the House floor.

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