Utah

Proposed kidnapping changes aim to fill gaps in custody concerns and protect Utah children – St George News

Stock Image of the Utah State Capitol Building |  Image by Michael Hart on Unsplash, St George News

Stock Image of the Utah State Capitol Building | Image by Michael Hart on Unsplash, St George News

Michael

ST. GEORGE –What exactly is parental abduction in the eyes of the law? Aiming to protect children, a proposed law hopes to clarify the terms of custody interference and kidnapping.

Will Carlson, Deputy District Attorney and Chief Policy Adviser for the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, is shown, place and date not given |  Photo courtesy of Will Carlson, St. George News
Will Carlson, Deputy District Attorney and Chief Policy Advisor for the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, is shown, place and date not given | Photo courtesy of Will Carlson, St. George News

The Parental Abduction Amendment Act, officially referred to as HB143 in the 2023 Utah Legislature, makes it a crime for a parent without visitation or custody to interfere with custody of a child. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jon Hawkinswho began his legislative service in January 2019.

Regarding the details of this bill, Will Carlson, assistant district attorney and senior policy adviser with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, told St. George News that under current law, parents who violate a custody or visitation order can be charged regulatory interventions.

Because a parent can give permission to take a child, if they do not have custody or visitation rights, they cannot currently be charged with interference with custody because they gave themselves permission to take the child.

“Most of the Amber Alerts that people get are disenfranchised parents who are taking the kids, so this law is really important to protect those kids,” Carlson said.

Carlson said kidnapping is a separate law that has a defense if the parent gives permission, but there is currently no distinction between whether it must be a parent with custody or visitation rights.

The bill states that a parent commits parental abduction if they do not have custody or visitation rights, kidnap, seduce, conceal, hold or detain the child of a custodian, or intend to interfere with custody.

“A parent whose custody has ended still cannot commit an abduction because they are the parent of the child and simply have no rights to the child,” Carlson added. “The aim of the bill is to create something between kidnapping and police intervention for these situations.”

If passed, a felony would be a second-degree felony for the parent to remove the child from the state in the course of parental abduction.

The bill also adds language stating that an affirmative defense against the crime of parental kidnapping is when the parent has a reasonable belief that the action is necessary to protect the child from imminent grievous bodily harm, to protect against death or child abuse, including sexual abuse.

Before the child is removed, the parent must report to law enforcement authorities the intention to engage in the act and the basis for the parent’s belief.

The bill was introduced to the House of Representatives on Jan. 17 and has yet to be heard in committee.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, All Rights Reserved.

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