HB 70: Forcible Entry Amendments

Over the past few decades, communities throughout America—including here in Utah—have seen a rise in “forcible entry” raids conducted by SWAT teams or task forces. Usually the raids are successful and professional, and  we are grateful for that.

The purpose of HB 70 is to minimize the risk both to law enforcement, and citizens, through better judicial oversight, because occasionally there are errors regarding the place to be searched, or the person or things to be seized.

Or, even when the right house is forcibly entered (for example, with a “no knock” warrant), a family member or other innocent person—or one or more police officers—is injured or killed in the ensuing chaos. These circumstances can be extremely dangerous, and as representatives of the people, our job is to make sure that they are minimized to the extent possible.

In the same way the legislature has established sentencing guidelines across the state, the purpose of House Bill 70 is to enact basic guidelines for judges and officers when seeking a warrant – or legal permission – to forcibly enter a private citizen’s home.

Before the Revolutionary War, American colonists were searched using vague “general warrants,” the soldiers easily infringed upon the private property of colonists. Which is why the Fourth Amendment specifically addressed the issue of searches and seizures:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Utah’s own Constitution contains the same language. These guarantees of our liberty require a few important things. A judge could not issue warrants unless:

1.     There was probable cause, or legitimate evidence of wrongdoing

2.     The officer requesting the warrant swore to his “evidence” under oath or positive affirmation and was held accountable to that oath

3.     The officer had to be specific. The place, the person(s), and/or thing(s) to be searched or seized had to be particularly described

It is important for our own safety, and the safety of our officers, to adhere to the Fourth Amendment of our Constitution. Law enforcement is valuable and crucial to our communities, but so is peace and our individual rights.

And that’s an idea I think all Utahns can get behind.

House Bill 70 was heard in committee February 10, 2014, it is currently being held and is under revision. You can find a copy of the bill here and listen to the committee presentation here.