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News Scan

UT Bill to Ban Death Penalty Fails:  Utah legislation that would have abolished capital punishment in the state failed late Thursday as lawmakers were unable to achieve enough support to pass the bill.  Andrea Noble of the Washington Times reports that the legislation to do away with the death penalty in Utah which passed in the Senate and a House committee this week,  came as a shock in a state that just last year sought to revive the use of firing squads in executions if lethal-injection drugs were unavailable.  The last person executed in the state was in 2010 by firing squad.  There are currently 31 states in the U.S. that allow the death penalty, while 19 have banned the practice completely.

CA Gov. can Pursue Inmate Ballot Measure:  The California Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Gov. Jerry Brown can move forward with a plan to reduce the state's inmate population by releasing "certain non-violent felons" early, even while a legal challenge is still being considered.  Paul Elias of the AP reports that back in December, a ballot measure was filed with the Attorney General's office proposing the discretion of whether to prosecute juveniles as adults be transferred from prosecutors to judges; however, after the 30-day public comment period on the measure expired, language was added amending the state constitution to allow certain non-violent adult felons to qualify for early release from prison.  This week's order by the high court means that while the court decides whether Brown made improper, late additions to the proposed measure, supporters of the measure can continue gathering signatures to qualify it for the November ballot.

Lamar Smith Argues in Favor of Mandatory Minimums:  In this Washington Times op-ed, Lamar Smith, a Republican member of the House of Representatives from Texas, defends the use of mandatory minimum sentencing, arguing that soft prison terms endanger innocent, law-abiding citizens.  Smith refutes often-cited justifications for lowering federal mandatory minimum sentences, such as size of the prison population, incarceration costs and too many nonviolent offenders imprisoned for too long, and concludes that one explanation for why crime rates remain lower today is that mandatory minimums have helped keep criminals behind bars.  "The lives and property of innocent Americans are at stake," he says.

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