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House Bill 458 — Battery, health care workers

House Bill 458 — Battery, health care workers

Parrish Miller
February 16, 2020

Bill description: HB 458 creates exceptions to the problematic "battery against health care workers" law.

Rating: +1

Does it directly or indirectly create or increase penalties for victimless crimes or non-restorative penalties for nonviolent crimes? Conversely, does it eliminate or decrease penalties for victimless crimes or non-restorative penalties for non-violent crimes?

In 2014, the Idaho legislature passed a bill creating a crime with enhanced penalties, known as "battery against health care workers." This legislation (SB 1351) was problematic and rated as a (-4) on the Idaho Freedom Index. 

In 2018, the Idaho Statesman published an article telling the story of a woman who was charged with two felonies and faced six years in prison. She had experienced a manic episode and unknowingly engaged in two acts of battery defined in Idaho code as "unlawful touching." The article revealed that she was just one of hundreds of individuals charged under this law.

In our 2014 analysis of the bill, we warned that this would happen. 

"Another problem with Senate Bill 1351 is that it lacks any language to protect individuals who may engage in "unlawful touching," but who are unable to form the intent to commit a crime due to illness, disability, stress, disorientation, medication or any other factor which may render them confused or unaware."

Unfortunately, HB 458 does not repeal this flawed statute — a statute which violates the principle of equal protection by declaring that anyone who commits a crime against certain persons will be subject to more severe penalties. 

HB 458 does, however, add some language to the statute that may help to prevent situations such as the one described in the Idaho Statesman article. Specifically, it says that the existing language of the law will "not apply to any person whose commission of battery is the direct and proximate result of mental illness or symptoms such as delusions, hallucinations, erroneous perceptions of reality, disorganized thinking, mania, or disruptions of consciousness, memory, and perception..." as long as that person is seeking or undergoing treatment for mental illness.

While this language is a step in the right direction, certain exceptions still allow enhanced penalties. For instance, one exception created by HB 458 is that someone who is under the influence of an intoxicant or controlled substance can still be charged with an enhanced crime of battery against a health care worker, rather than a simple battery against another individual. This is particularly concerning because it means that a reaction to medication or to a combination of medications and other substances is still potentially grounds for enhanced battery charges, simply because the individual with the altered mental state was seeking help.

Additionally, the exception created by HB 458 only applies in cases where the patient is seeking or undergoing treatment for mental illness. It does not apply to individuals suffering from or seeking treatment for other ailments. A disoriented individual suffering from a concussion would not be exempted under this language, for example.

HB 458 may ameliorate the statute to some degree, but only its full repeal can correct what has always been a fundamentally flawed concept. 


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