Recently, Utah State Representative Stephen G. Handy has proposed a bill to, in his own words: “allow for police officers to perform their duties in pursuing arrests for criminal activity that did not occur in their presence. This may sound alarming . However, there are many instances in which we allow police to pursue arrests in this manner.”
This is misleading. While there may be problematic language with what is currently on the books and what policemen should be able to do, as evidenced by three examples Handy provides, the proposed legislation is dangerous and risky. Currently policemen have authority to arrest someone upon probable cause of a Felony or a Class A Misdemeanor. These seem like relatively reasonable lines to draw, but the bill that has been proposed would change these limits. The first change is from probable cause to reasonable cause or reasonable suspicion, as it is more commonly called. This might bother me, but I’ll hold off judgement on this portion of the bill, because I haven’t studied law, and I’d have to study that and think about it for a bit to decide if that’s a reasonable change.
The other change is what troubles me– and, in the common vernacular: It is not cool. The bill “amends a peace officer’s authority to make an arrest without a warrant upon reasonable cause by providing that this authority includes any misdemeanor, rather than current law which grants the authority to arrest upon reasonable cause to class A misdemeanors and felonies.” Given what Class B and C Misdemeanors include, this makes me very opposed to the bill, because police authority could then be abused far too easily.
In the Deseret News comments section online, one ‘John C.C.’ from Payson says:
Sample Class B misdemeanors: Illegal fireworks, gambling, writing a bad check, possessing a keg of beer, retail theft, possession of marijuana, road racing, failure of public official to disclose conflict of interest, disturb the legislature, do business without a license, damage a government survey marker, damage a road sign, fornication, false fire alarm, minor graffiti, let your kids sluff school, fishing w/o license.
Sample Class C misdemeanor: speed, leave your neighbors gate open, use vulgar language on a bus, misnumber your written checks, lie to avoid jury duty, abandon your campfire and it reignites without hurting, anything, give cigarettes to a minor, public urination, public intoxication.
A website leaning toward the ‘blue’ side discusses the unacceptable risk for abuse of this law here. A friend of mine on Facebook commented on the issue, saying:
It strikes me as a misunderstanding here – Congr. Handy probably doesn’t really understand the difference between arresting someone and charging them with a crime. Nothing would stop a Utah policeman, under existing law, from issuing a citation for these minor, though unwitnessed, misdemeanors – and it’d be up to a judge to decide whether the evidence, if any, deserved further proescution. This has nothing to do with making an arrest. Making an arrest is a matter of keeping public order. There’s no reason to do it otherwise, in the absence of a specific warrant. It’s as if Handy imagines that arrest and conviction are the same thing.
While I certainly don’t expect that officers will immediately begin abusing this authority to some intolerable degree, but I’m certain that the change in law creates a tenor which requires less proof from the state– less burden on them before they can detain, arrest, and interfere with the lives of the average citizen. Where there is less requirement for proof, accountability suffers, and in this case, civil liberties could easily come under assault by individual officers who misinterpret situations, deliberately or not. In short, this bill is a subtle threat to our civil liberties and should be resisted vigorously by the population. We can and should be vocal– email your state representative today. If you live in Utah County, your rep is Patrick Painter. If not, you can find out who your Representative is by searching at www.utah.gov.
Finally, I include a sample letter, written by my friend Kevin:
With the rising cost of incarceration 2008 statistics show at about $30,594 per inmate (http://nicic.gov/features/statestats/?State=UT) and a proposed 7 percent cut in the Utah State Prison that could potentially prematurely release about 850 prison inmates along with the job loss of approximately 175 Corrections staff members (http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home/51145440-76/cuts-proposed-budget-prison.html.csp).
According to the same Salt Lake Tribune article there would be a need to curtail DUI enforcement. All of this at a time that the Utah Legislator is choosing to submit, HB 59 on Arrest and Requirements with or without Warrants by Stephen G. Handy. The bill “amends a peace officer’s authority to make an arrest without a warrant upon reasonable cause by providing that this authority includes any misdemeanor. . .”
If during a time of budgetary shrinkage why on earth would we want to allow police officers the ability to arrest people for any “misdemeanor”, i.e.: J-Walking, Spiting in public, vulgar language, etc. It seems this would require tax payers to pay more dollars for less effective government and create more bureaucracy.
Please help stop the passing of this bill.