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Attorneys in Utah Representing Peace Officers Argue Against House Bill

Revisions to Utah’s state laws regarding police work are getting some kick back from law enforcement officers and police departments according to this article in Police One online. Changing requirements for police officers trying to obtain forcible-entry warrants, the House Bill 70 would demand that officers prove to a judge that there are no less invasive methods available for obtaining permission for a “no knock” entry into a person’s house. One of the bill’s heavy promoters the Libertas Institute think tank side’s with its sponsor Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, who argues that current procedure could be changed to preserve more personal liberty. But peace officers say that HB 70 would open the door for more litigation, and attorneys in Utah think that just may be the case.

The catalysts for the bill are two well-publicized forcible entries in 2012. In one, police rushed into the home of an individual they wrongly believed to be military deserter. He opened his door with a baseball bat in hand at 2 a.m., and was “temporarily subdued,” by the police before they realized he wasn’t who they were looking to apprehend. The man’s attorneys in Utah filed a suit that arguably held police responsible for his injuries, and the standard procedure was altered to limit liability by requiring that all forcible entries must be cleared by officers of a rank of lieutenant or higher.

The Libertas Institute maintains that current procedures for “home invasions” by police are permissive, and allow judges to “rubber stamp” warrant requests. The bill’s purpose, they argue, is to ensure that to issue warrants in Utah, judges would be required to follow a statewide standard. Deeming the issuing judge a “check and watchdog” on the process, the think tank insists that HB 70 would save lives of both police officers and citizens, and would reduce damage to personal property. Attorneys in Utah examining the bill note that it may be effective in achieving its ends if passed, but that the concerns expressed by law enforcement departments are valid.

Litigation could go through the roof with the new bill, and the pushback coming from police departments argues that it puts unfair and unrealistic expectations on officers serving the public good. Discouraging officers from doing their jobs is not one of the bill’s goals, but it may be an unintentional side-effect, Roy Police Chief Michael Elliott contends. He states that officers don’t have the benefit of hindsight when conducing high-stakes forcible entries and don’t immediately know the least force necessary to make an arrest or obtain evidence. Officers are balancing a lot of risks when completing forcible entries, such as the suspect’s criminal history, tendency for violence, availability of weapons, and information gathered from surveillance.

Attorneys in Utah defending officers from increased litigation by suspects would just stall the implementation of justice, Elliott argues, and tie up courts in civil suits when the police are attempting to secure the public safety and put criminals behind bars. But this notion can be a hard pill to swallow for states like Utah that value individual and personal liberties.

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