Bill Would Require Witnesses to a Crime to Act

Rep. Brian S. King

(KCPW News) 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 to prevent harm. But that doesn’t mean a witness getting in harm’s way. Instead, King says assisting in an emergency can be as simple as making a phone call.

“Reasonable assistance, the great majority of the time…is simply going to be summoning help, dialing 911,” King says.

HB125 classifies bystander inaction as a class B misdemeanor. If enacted, it 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 says he helped King develop the bill over the course of a year. The son of Holocaust survivors, Guiora’s research has focused on the lack of bystander intervention in a historical context.

But Guiora says one of the clearest examples of bystander inaction in the present day has to do with sexual assault cases.

“If you see sexual assault, sexual violence, all you need to do is dial 911,” Guiora says.

“From my perspective the bystander facilitates the perpetrator’s actions by not calling 911,” he says.

King described HB125 as a tool for prosecutors to evaluate what he called a “tag-along crime,” a secondary crime arising from the original crime or a medical emergency.

The bill has yet to be presented in committee, but King anticipates critics will push back against the idea of “legislating morality,” something he says the legislature does all the time.

“When we do legislate morality, we need to do it carefully…in a way that protects each other, [and] in a way that doesn’t overreach or interfere unnecessarily with our lives,” King says.

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

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