Utah Attorney General Paul Van Dam said a law requiring police to order suspects in domestic violence incidents out of their homes for at least a day is unconstitutional.
The law passed by the 1990 Legislature went into effect April 23 but has apparently not been enforced by any police agency in the state pending the attorney general's opinion.The opinion, released late Tuesday afternoon, was sought by Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom, who is chairman of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors.
Although the opinion does not actually prevent the law from being enforced, prosecutors say the threat of a lawsuit based on the attorney general's findings makes it useless.
"Police and prosecutors would attempt to enforce it at their own peril," said Jim Housley, executive director of the prosecutors association, predicting no one will be cited under the law.
The legislators behind the law were frustrated by the opinion but said they will try again to find a way of separating suspects and victims without forcing victims from their homes.
Rep. Joanne Milner, D-Salt Lake, who co-sponsored a package of bills aimed at helping domestic violence victims with Rep. Mont Evans, R-Riverton, said that a battered woman "is left out in the cold" by the opinion.
Evans said prosecutors "are sticking themselves out on a limb" if they don't enforce the law because victims whose lives are endangered because suspects weren't ordered to stay away from them could sue.
Van Dam affirmed what many law enforcement officials believed, that the law deprives suspects of their right to due process.
The law required police officers to order suspects out of their homes for at least 24 hours, and as long as 96 hours, until they have appeared before a judge.
The attorney general's opinion states the biggest problem with the law is "there is no requirement for a showing of a risk of immediate and irreparable harm to justify the no-contact order . . . "
Without that threat, there is no basis to deprive suspects of their constitutional right to argue their case in court before being denied access to their property, the opinion concludes.
Housley and Van Dam both said they will help legislators draft a constitutional law. Both the prosecutors association official and the attorney general said there is a need to separate victims and suspects.
But Housley said the "no contact" law may not have prevented the deaths of Utah women at the hands of their boyfriends and husbands as supporters of the legislation have suggested.
Van Dam proposed that judges could be made available 24 hours a day to hear requests from police officers for restraining orders against domestic violence suspects.