A bill planned for the 2018 Utah Legislative Session by Utah House Democratic Minority Leader Rep. Brian King would require Utah citizens to assist others who are suffering, or are threatened with serious bodily injury associated with a crime or another emergency.
Failing to act or call for help for a stranger in need, in cases when a person has a reasonable and safe opportunity to assist, would be punishable as a class B misdemeanor.
King worked with University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Amos Guiora on issues related to bystander intervention for more than a year leading up to the drafting of the bill.
Guiora, the author of The Crime of Complicity: The Bystander in the Holocaust, also helped to organize the 2016/17 Utah Law Review symposium on issues related to bystanders. Held in March 2017, the symposium, The Bystander Dilemma: The Holocaust, War Crimes, And Sexual Assaults, examined the legal and moral obligations of bystanders.
Conversations emerging from Guiora’s book and the symposium helped to build a foundation for the bill, King said.
“Around the time he published his book we discussed putting into a bill file for consideration by the legislature a mechanism to provide a tool to prosecutors bring criminal charges against individuals who act in particularly callous ways, individuals who show extreme indifference to circumstances where others are faced with immediate injury or death and the person not at risk could take action to prevent or mitigate the injury or damage. Prof. Guiora’s book and my conversations with him were important in sharpening my own thinking on this issue,” said King.
“I welcome the discussion that I hope the bill will produce in our state,” he added.
King said his bill does not require anyone to take actions that would put themselves at risk or in danger to help another human being. “We’re not asking anyone to be a hero,” said King. “This is just codifying our society’s reasonable expectation that you should take reasonable action, such as calling 911 when you see someone who is hurt, or if you see something that you know is a crime.”
King added the bill would not impose requirements beyond what is already rationally and ethically expected in society.
“We’re talking about addressing the most clear-cut and callous examples of indifference to other people in need. If a person sees a crime being committed, or sees someone in dire need of help, but that person intentionally chooses not to call for help, that may make them complicit. In those circumstances, I think it is appropriate to give our prosecutors tools to ensure there are consequences.”
Several other states already have similar laws, sometimes called “Duty to Rescue” laws, requiring citizens to assist strangers in peril, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Rhode Island.
King’s bill would also amend and apply to the bill Utah’s Good Samaritan Act that provides immunity from liability to a person who provides assistance to others during an emergency.