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Revised forced entry bill zips through House committee

Published: Thursday, Sept. 3 2015 7:38 p.m. MDT

After coordination with the courts and a few revisions, a House committee recommended a bill Tuesday that would set parameters on when police can forcibly enter a building. (Shutterstock) After coordination with the courts and a few revisions, a House committee recommended a bill Tuesday that would set parameters on when police can forcibly enter a building. (Shutterstock)

SALT LAKE CITY — After coordination with the courts and a few revisions, a House committee recommended a bill Tuesday that would set parameters on when police can forcibly enter a building.

Last week, the committee decided to hold the bill, sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts, R-Santaquin, after an hour of discussion. Tuesday, lawmakers were satisfied with the changes and passed it out of committee unanimously in less than 10 minutes.

HB70 would allow forcible entry for searches, not just arrests. A revision made over the past week adds two lines saying the bill is "subject to the provisions of Rule 40, Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure." That rule, written by the Utah Judicial Council, refers specifically to search warrants and defines how they can be obtained and filed and when they can be served.

Coordinating with the Utah Judicial Council's rules was a point of concern during the previous discussion. Roberts said there will be a meeting with the courts on March 18 and throughout the summer to ensure that the rules and statute are consistent.

"This is a Rubik's Cube. That's the way the criminal law works. It looks easy and it is isn't. You move one thing and a lot of things have to follow suit," said Paul Boyden of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors.

The legislation comes in response to concerns about raids conducted at wrong addresses and incidents such as the January 2012 Ogden shooting, when officer Jared Francom was killed and five officers were also shot while serving a no-knock search warrant.

To get a warrant, the bill would require a law enforcement agent to demonstrate whether there is a less invasive option and whether there has been sufficient investigation to know the warrant will be served on the right person at the right place.

The bill also states officers must identify themselves except in certain situations where "knock and announce" would cause harm.

The "guts" of the bill, according to Boyden, strengthens the legal standard required for forcible entry from a "reason to believe" that evidence will be destroyed to heftier "probable cause to believe" that evidence could "easily or quickly" be destroyed.

He clarified the changes deal only with destruction of evidence.

"That is not a change of the standard from 'reasonable suspicion' to 'probable cause' if you're talking about public safety exceptions or safety of the officers, that kind of thing," Boyden said.

Roberts has said the bill isn't meant to be an attack on law enforcement.

"(It's) simply trying to introduce a little bit of caution to make sure it's done when absolutely necessary and we make sure we have the correct home, among other things, when forcible entry is performed," he said last week.

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