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An ex-federal judge is challenging Utah's exclusionary rule, which requires that evidence obtained unconstitutionally by police be thrown out in court.
Before the Utah Supreme Court on Wednesday, University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell said the state's independent exclusionary rule "only gives rights to guilty criminals" and "suppresses reliable evidence ... thus helping them escape punishment and re-victimize victims."
Cassell, representing the Utah Council on Victims of Crimes, joined with the state in fighting the appeal of Chanzy Walker, a 34-year-old West Valley City woman who is serving a 15-year term for having methamphetamine in her system when she sideswiped a truck, then crashed head-on into a vehicle, killing 50-year-old Frank O. Garcia in 2007.
Walker's attorney, Linda Jones, argued that evidence, including a blood draw performed by police, should be suppressed under the state's rule because the warrant used by police lacked probable cause.
Jones said the warrant didn't mention any signs of impairment, but rather police relied "on a hunch" because Walker had a previous alcohol-related driving offense. The warrant's language was too vague, Jones said. For instance, it said she was restricted to driving a car with an interlock device, but didn't specifically say if she was restricted at the time of the crash.
Prosecutor Jeffrey Gray said the warrant needs to be interpreted in a "common-sense fashion."
"In totality, it reaches a fair probability ... that the reason she crossed the center line was impairment," he said.
Cassell said the case likely could not be challenged under the federal exclusionary rule because it would fall under the good-faith exception, which allows evidence obtained unlawfully to be admitted to trial if police officers had reason to believe their actions were legal.
Utah's exclusionary rule doesn't have such an exception.
Suppressing evidence obtained unlawfully is the "only effective" means of deterring unlawful searches and seizures, Jones said. Cassell, meanwhile, argued deterrents were already in place under Utah law, including misdemeanor citations for police who engage in such behavior.
"Those aren't remedies for the person whose rights have been violated," said Chief Justice Christine Durham.
The court took the case under advisement. No time was set for a ruling to be issued.