Provo Man Asks Court to Tighten Search Warrant Document Laws

Provo Man Asks Court to Tighten Search Warrant Document Laws

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- A local man has filed a petition with the Utah Supreme Court alleging he's not getting fair access to legal documents over a search warrant executed at his house.

Brian Barnard, a civil rights attorney representing Brian R. Anderson, argues in court documents that sloppy record keeping by Provo court officials violates state law. The writ names 4th District judges and court administrators as defendants.

Anderson's home and property were searched in October 2004, but he was never arrested. When he tried to get documents from the 4th District Court showing why a judge signed the warrant, he was told the court didn't keep records of police requests for warrants or copies of signed warrants.

Those documents stay in the hands of officers until they return the warrant, along with a list of what was found, to the court. Court officials acknowledge the practice is the same statewide.

"A judge takes drastic action when issuing a search warrant authorizing the invasion of a person's home," Barnard wrote in a brief filed with the Utah Supreme Court earlier this week. "Yet the clerks and the judges of the 4th District Court maintain no record that a search warrant has been issued" and no explanation why."

Barnard is asking the high court to make court clerks statewide keep the original affidavits that request search warrants, along with copies of all warrants issued.

The documents could be kept confidential until the search has been completed, but would then be available to anyone who would like to see them. The current scheme leaves all originals in the hands of police, who have no firm time limit to return them and could potentially alter them, Barnard says.

Attorney Brent Johnson, who represents state courts, said judges have been following the same practice for years because they can issue warrants anywhere, such as by phone at home.

Once a warrant is returned by police, Johnson said, the document is filed chronologically by the clerk's office. Anyone wanting to inspect one must know the general time frame of when the search warrant was issued and executed.

"Are we doing something legally wrong? No," Johnson said Thursday. "Are we open to suggestions of building a better mousetrap? Absolutely."

Barnard argues that in the rare instances where a judge issues a search warrant at his or her home, state law requires the telephone conversation be recorded and requires the judge to make a copy.

If a judge signs an affidavit presented to him in person outside court, he has a duty to keep the document and give it to the clerk at the first opportunity, Barnard said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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