A bill state lawmakers will face in January would require state prosecutors to tell people they could be charged with a crime after they have been ordered to testify as part of a secret investigation.
The bill, endorsed this week by Utah Attorney General David Wilkinson, also would strengthen the ability prosecutors have to conduct private, confidential investigations while ensuring witnesses and suspects their rights, state officials said.If it becomes law, the bill would set a statewide standard for conducting secret investigations, said Assistant Utah Attorney General Stanley Olsen.
"Right now, there may be more things told (to witnesses and suspects) in one jurisdiction than in another," Olsen said.
The bill was proposed after the Utah Supreme Court recommended changes in the Subpoena Powers Act earlier this year. Justices said the attorney general's office abused the act in a 1983-84 investigation of a Utah Power & Light Co. fraud case and needed stricter civil-rights safeguards.
In that case, the state investigated a kickback scheme in UP&L's security operations and eventually filed charges against a former company official and three private security contractors.
All four were convicted in two 1985 trials and sentenced to jail or prison. The cases are before the Utah Court of Appeals.
State prosecutors admitted the law had been illegally applied in the probe but said they do not believe the Supreme Court decision will alter convictions obtained in the case.
Justice Michael Zimmerman said prosecutors should tell a subpoenaed witness the general nature of the investigation, notify him he could refuse to answer on grounds of self-incrimination and explain that he has the right to have an attorney present during questioning.
The justices also said suspects in an investigation have to be told they are targets of the probe and of charges being considered against them.
The proposed law also would require prosecutors to keep detailed records of the investigation.