Utah measure pushes back on ruling that boosted police power

A lawmaker is proposing to limit the effects of a SCOTUS ruling that bolstered police power to use evidence even if officers did something wrong to get it

By Lindsay Whitehurst
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker is proposing to limit the effects of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bolstered police power to use evidence even if officers did something wrong to get it.

State prosecutors criticized the legislation that would bar all evidence gathered after an illegal stop, while a libertarian-leaning group argued it would curtail the potential for police abuse.

The 2016 ruling from the high court could make police more likely to stop people even if there was no reason to think they were doing anything wrong, said Connor Boyack with the Libertas Institute.

The justices decided man named Edward Joseph Strieff could be convicted of drug crimes even though officers found methamphetamine after an illegal stop in the city of South Salt Lake.

The divided court found the evidence was legal because there was a warrant out for Strieff's arrest. The dissenting justices said it was a blow to constitutional rights because officers only found the unpaid traffic citation after stopping him without probable cause.

Rep. Brian Greene, a Republican from Pleasant Grove, said Monday that the ruling was troubling. While most police officers respect people's rights, there is an occasional exception, he said.

"We've all heard and seen there are those who would abuse power, and this opens the door for abuse, even if it is in small doses," he said. "It is not, in my opinion, the direction we want to be going as a free society, to whittle away at our constitutional protections."

The Utah Attorney General's Office said in a statement that the plan goes too far.

"It punishes officers' good-faith efforts to comply with the law. It also unfairly distorts the truth-finding process by suppressing evidence lawfully seized from criminals already subject to arrest," said Solicitor General Tyler Green, who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court that the evidence against Strieff was legal because he was arrested on a valid warrant.

"Courts already protect citizens from police abuses by suppressing evidence when officers cheat to get it," he said.

Greene said the bill would keep state law where it was when the Utah Supreme Court decided that evidence from the Strieff stop could not be used.

"I am somewhat disappointed that the state felt the need to overturn, and successfully overturned, our homegrown jurisprudence," he said.

Greene expects the bill to have a hearing in the coming days.

Associated Press
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