2015 Bills

SB82: Restricting Police Officers Using Forcible Entry into Homes

This bill passed the Senate unanimously and passed the House 67-3. It was subsequently signed into law by Governor Herbert.

Libertas Institute supports this bill.

Last year, Libertas Institute proposed model legislation to restrict when law enforcement officials could use forcible entry (e.g. no-knock warrants) to enter a person’s home. After negotiations and some modifications, the resulting legislation successfully passed.

This legislative effort was a first step in a larger effort to find the right balance between public safety and individual liberty. Together with ACLU Utah and the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Libertas Institute has proposed additional changes that move us closer to that balance point. Several of the provisions were discussed and debated at our Fourth Amendment Forum this summer, featuring a panel comprised of several law enforcement representatives.

Senate Bill 82, sponsored by Senator Steve Urquhart, seeks to make the following changes:

  1. Law enforcement officials would no longer be able to forcibly enter a home without notice to its occupants for purposes of preserving evidence. In other words, no-knock warrants would no longer be authorized in order to seize drugs before the owner has time to flush them down the toilet.
  2. Officers would need probable cause—instead of the current standard of reasonable suspicion—in order to forcibly enter a building without first announcing their presence to the occupants inside.
  3. Uniforms must be worn in order to forcibly enter a building (which sounds like common sense, but does not always happen), and must have large, conspicuous text indicating that the person is a police officer.
  4. Each officer forcibly entering a building must be equipped with a body camera actively recording throughout the duration of the execution of the warrant.
  5. No justice court judge may issue a forcible entry warrant. See here for background on what a justice court is; judges in these courts are employed by cities and need not be trained in the law. Given the severity of these types of warrants, they should only be authorized by judges who understand Fourth Amendment protections and jurisprudence.
  6. Any evidence obtained in violation of the law, including the restrictions created in this bill, would become inadmissable in court—providing a deterrent for government agents to ensure they enforce the law by the book, respecting the rights and due process that must be afforded to each (presumably innocent) individual.

Update: Following negotiations with law enforcement representatives, the bill has been modified to reflect compromises from both sides.

  • No forcible entry warrant may be authorized solely on an allegation of possession or use of prohibited drugs or drug paraphernalia
  • The legal standard for doing a no-knock warrant will be reasonable suspicion
  • The body camera mandate is instead a mandate to create a policy within the agency, which must include a provision requiring the use of cameras for forcible entry warrants
  • Officers will be able forcibly enter a building without notice to preserve evidence they have probable cause to believe will be destroyed (but not secreted)