HB 124: Creating a Safer Warrant Process
This bill passed the House 69-0 and the Senate 22-0.
Libertas Institute has long cared about restricting police use of forcible entry to one’s home. A person’s home is their sanctuary, and with respect to private property rights and personal privacy, it only makes sense to stand up and protect an individual’s right to be safe and secure from the invasion of government. Of course, there are times when law enforcement can legally enter one’s residence, but only under specific circumstances. And Libertas is trying to ensure that when these circumstances arise, entrance to the home is carried out in the safest manner possible.
Former Representative Craig Hall worked with Libertas to sponsor a comprehensive bill in 2021 to limit no-knock warrants to be used only when there was “existing, imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death to a person inside the building.” Unfortunately, the bill did not pass with that language. And one of the main reasons is to preserve law enforcement’s ability to have broader use of no-knock warrants, or forcible entry, for reasons like preserving evidence. Although we disagree with this reasoning under the belief that forcible entry usage is dangerous and should be reserved only for situations where human life is already in danger, there are still steps that need to be taken to minimize the potential fatality risks.
Representative Matt Gwynn is sponsoring House Bill 124 which restricts forcible entry use in Utah. It first ensures that officers who are conducting the no-knock warrant must be wearing “readily identifiable markings, including a badge and vest or clothing with a distinguishing label” to help individuals identify them as law enforcement. This provision is important, to help prevent situations like the Matthew David Stewart case where law enforcement burst into his residence in plain clothes, therefore making Stewart think he was being robbed.
The bill then clarifies that officers can use forcible entry when “exigent circumstances exist due to the destruction of evidence” or reasonable suspicion to believe there is a threat to the safety of an officer or individual in near proximity to the building.
Before asking a judge for warrant approval, the bill requires a supervisory official to evaluate the totality of the circumstances, ensure reasonable intelligence-gathering efforts and threat assessments were made, and determine there is sufficient basis to seek a warrant. This adds another layer of protection to ensure the legitimacy of the warrants.
The bill also requires all warrants to be served during daytime hours unless there are sufficient grounds to believe it is necessary to conduct during the evening hours. This is generally safer for everyone involved, including officers and home residents.
For no-knock warrants, the bill requires the affidavit to describe why the officer believes the suspect is unable to be detained or the residence can’t be searched using less invasive methods. It also requires investigation to ensure the correct building is identified and potential harm to innocent third parties is minimized.
This bill is a step toward a better warrant process for both forcible entry and knock-and-announce warrants.