Utah law and the U.S. Supreme Court clash over whether the state can take away someone's home if more than $1,000 in drugs are stored there.
Utah law says yes. But the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992 said taking away someone's home for modest amounts of drugs violates the Eighth Amendment.The Utah Supreme Court Monday fell in line with the high court, ruling that the Juab County sheriff's office erred when it tried to forfeit a man's home after arranging for $1,000 worth of marijuana to be delivered there as part of a sting.
The Utah court concluded that a home can only be forfeited when it is heavily involved in a drug crime, and not just used as a place to store personal drugs.
"Unless the state can establish that the defendant property was an instrumentality of crime, any forfeiture of the property is excessive," Chief Justice Michael D. Zimmerman wrote.
The Utah court took its cue from the U.S. Supreme Court in ruling that the state must now establish "a pattern of illegal activities" at a home before trying to forfeit the home.
The U.S. Supreme Court left it up to local courts to decide what the standard is for forfeiting property involved in a drug crime. The Utah court has now spelled out that standard, said Assistant Utah Attorney General Scott Reed.
Unless someone was selling drugs from their home or receiving shipments of drugs there, the home could not be forfeited under the standard outlined by the Utah Supreme Court Monday.
Even though Juab homeowner Kim Beddoes received $1,000 worth of unasked for drugs at his home on the night of the sting, Juab County prosecutor Donald Eyre could not prove that he had received drugs at the home before.
Ron Yengich, attorney for Beddoes, praised the ruling. Liberals and conservatives alike agree that major pieces of property shouldn't be forfeited on small quantities of drugs, he said.
"I think most people who have reasoned through this issue realize that is an abuse of police power," Yengich said.
Lawmakers have talked about amending Utah's forfeiture law so it no longer allows police to forfeit major pieces of property for small amounts of drugs.
"Even conservatives agree that is the direction we ought to be moving in . . . Let's make the punishment fit the crime," Yengich said.
The court's ruling upheld a state judge's decision. The state judge, partly because he felt the police conduct in the matter was egregious, refused to forfeit Beddoes' home.
The incident began when a Utah Highway Patrol trooper arrested a man with 15 pounds of marijuana in his car on a November night in 1992.
He turned the man over to Juab County deputy sheriffs for interrogation. The deputies found a client list with the man. The deputies told the man he must make a controlled delivery of marijuana to one of the alleged clients, Beddoes, or he would be charged with the most serious crime they could charge him with.
The man agreed. The deputies then deliberately chose $1,000 worth of marijuana to be delivered to Beddoes, because state law prohibits the forfeiture of a home unless at least $1,000 worth of drugs have been stored there. Beddoes had never bought that much marijuana before, the man told the deputies.
As soon as the man delivered the marijuana, deputies rushed in and arrested Beddoes.
The state didn't really expect to win this case, Reed said.
Why was it appealed? "You'd have to ask Don Eyre," he said.
Eyre - who has been appointed to the 4th District bench - could not be reached for comment.