Law Enforcement Committee Take On Search Warrants and Rape Kits

committee

DPS Explain Search Warrant Execution, Avoid Elephant in the Room 

After last month’s search of former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s home, which he has publicly criticized, the Utah Legislature decided to take up the task of reviewing search warrant procedures in Utah.

Speaking on behalf of the Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS), Colonel Daniel Fuhrer and Major Brian Redd answered the concerns of the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday, but did not address the actual incident, citing that it was a joint investigation and that DPS was not involved in the securing of Shurtleff’s home.

Fuhrer gave an overview of the types of searches and the types of procedures DPS uses, but did not go into the Shurtleff investigation. “We can only speculate as to what occurred since it wasn’t our agency,” said Fuhrer. Fuhrer continued, saying that because they weren’t involved in the first operation, they would not speculate, for fear of dispersing false information.

Most of the committee’s questions revolved around hypothetical situations, how people are treated during searches and the different types of search procedures. No new information was presented by Fuhrer or Redd with regards to the investigation, nor were any specifics regarding the search brought to light.

Rape Kits Backlog Receive Scrutiny

The committee’s attention moved from the issue of search warrants to the processing of rape kits.

Ned Searle and Donna Kelly, members of the Utah Sexual Violence Council, addressed the committee regarding the cost and backlog of rape kits in the state.

According to Representative Jennifer Seelig (Democrat – Salt Lake City), up to 2,000 rape kits in Utah remain unprocessed and over 300,000 nationwide. “[State agencies] have committed, they have promised to work together and to come up with solutions and get back to us on this as soon as possible,” said Seelig.

Seelig added in a press release after the meeting that “It is crucial that we continue to investigate and report on the progress the state is making with this backlog. Our state is accountable to these victims, who have put their trust in us, and it is our job to work to keep that trust. This committee, the Utah Sexual Violence Council, and the state are dedicated to correcting this problem as quickly as possible.”

Searle and Kelly presented their information regarding rape kits in Utah and nationwide, as well as pointing out states where rape kits had a low backlog.

Some representatives were concerned about the use and prioritization of forensic funds. “I don’t want to spend limited valuable resources for an issue that is merely perception,” said Senator Daniel Thatcher (Republican – West Valley City). Thatcher went on to say that these kits lacked value because of other circumstantial or testimonial evidence.

Holly Mullen, Executive Director of the Rape Recovery Center, addressed Thatcher’s concerns, explaining that “Too many of these kits are getting hung up at the point of a police officers trying to decide what is legitimate at that point and what isn’t, whether it was consensual or whether it wasn’t,” said Mullen, “…it is a tough thing not to register emotion and cultural feelings about what rape is and how it occurs, but at best we need to look at this evidence… as not loaded.”

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