Utah bill limiting the use of ‘no-knock’ warrants passes House, heads to Senate floor

Stock image | Photo by Cylonphoto/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE —A bill that would modify existing Utah law to require police officers armed with a search warrant to knock and announce their presence several times before forcibly entering a home unanimously passed the House on Wednesday and is on its way to the Senate.

File photo for illustrative purposes only of Washington City Police officers responding to an incident near Red Robin in Washington City, Utah, Oct. 22, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The Forcible Entry Amendments bill, officially designated HB 124 in the 2022 Utah Legislature, would ban “no-knock” warrants for cases involving misdemeanor charges altogether, and would also require officers to knock more than once before entering when the entry is accompanied by a “knock and announce” warrant.

Should the bill be signed into law, officers would be required to wear clothing with a “distinguishable” label and badge that clearly identifies them as law enforcement and also recommends warrants be carried out before 10 p.m.

This new policy narrows what is permitted by law by limiting the use of “no knock” entries to only those higher-risk instances where physical safety is at stake.

Rep. Matthew Gwynn, of Farr West, sponsor of the bill and police chief for Roy Police Department in Weber County, told St. George News he decided to carry the bill into this year’s legislative session to standardize the policies connected to the application and execution of these types of warrants, which can then guide law enforcement and the judiciary in deciding whether the action is warranted or not.

The bill made its initial debut last year, in the wake of the protests that took place in 2020, but was held up due to the time requirement stating that officers had to wait at least 30 seconds for the occupant to open the door before entering.

The 2022 bill changed the waiting period to “a reasonable” period of time,” consistent with the language outlined in the existing law, which Gwynn said is important since the 30-second rule may not apply to every situation when a warrant is executed, particularly with so many variables that can come into play.

He also said the bill strikes a balance between abolishing no-knock warrants altogether by prohibiting their use in misdemeanor crimes. The legislation also places additional restrictions in warrants connected to felony investigations. He also said that contrary to common public perception, officers are not alone in obtaining a warrant, as it cannot be executed until it has been approved by a judge.

Stock image | Photo courtesy of the FBI, St. George News

Be that as it may, he said, establishing clear parameters can assist both in making those determinations.

Ultimately, he said the goal is to protect both the public and the law enforcement officers tasked with executing the warrant.

Last year, similar policy changes were enacted on the federal level to limit the use of unannounced entries, making it a requirement for federal agents to “knock and announce” their identity, authority and purpose, and demand to enter before entry is made to execute a warrant in a private dwelling.

The federal changes also limit the use of “no knock” entries to circumstances wherein agents suspect or have established a presence of a threat to their physical safety.

The Utah bill passed the House with a unanimous vote and now heads to the Senate floor.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2022 Utah Legislature here.

For a complete list of contacts for Southern Utah representatives and senators, click here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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