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Utah's eWarrant system challenged in Supreme Court

Published April 30, 2014 12:17 pm

Courts • Attorneys in an automobile homicide case had argued the system is unconstitutional.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The way police officers electronically apply for search warrants was challenged in the Utah Supreme Court recently, but the high court ruled Tuesday that Utah's eWarrant system is constitutional.

Gabriel Gutierrez-Perez, 29, was sentenced to up to 16 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to automobile homicide and driving under the influence in a 2011 car crash that killed Utah paramedic Jonathan Bowers.

Though Gutierrez-Perez pleaded guilty to the charges, he appealed the district court's decision to deny his motion to suppress evidence obtained through a blood draw after the crash.

According to the Supreme Court's opinion, Gutierrez-Perez's attorneys argued that the eWarrant system the police officer used to quickly obtain a search warrant for a blood draw was unconstitutional because the system does not require the officer to submit an "oath or affirmation," as required by the United States and Utah constitutions.

The Supreme Court noted in its opinion that the eWarrant application does include a screen labeled "Affidavit Submission for eWarrant" and includes the statement: "By submitting this affidavit, I declare under criminal penalty of the State of Utah that the foregoing is true and correct."

Gutierrez-Perez's attorneys argued that the language used on that screen was borrowed from the state statute governing "unsworn declarations," and therefore, it should be treated as an unsworn statement.

The justices were not swayed by their argument, however, and ultimately ruled that the officer's statement was supported by a valid affirmation.

"In sum, while applying for the eWarrant in this case, the officer declared that the information that he was submitting was 'true and correct,'" Chief Justice Matthew Durrant wrote. "Further, in making that declaration he expressly made himself subject to potential criminal penalty."

Prior to the May 22, 2011 crash, Gutierrez-Perez had spent the night drinking with friends at home and then at a downtown nightclub, according to police. After sleeping for awhile on a friend's sofa, Gutierrez-Perez drove home at 6 a.m.

He was going about 75 mph when he crashed into Bowers' stopped car near 6200 South and 4000 West in Taylorsville. After slamming into the back of another vehicle, Bowers' car was launched into the air.

Gutierrez-Perez's car crashed into a pole before hitting a wall. He ran into a residential area, where police later found him hiding in a window well. His blood alcohol level was 0.19, more than twice the legal limit.

Bowers, 31, of West Jordan, died a week after the crash.

jmiller@sltrib.com

Twitter: @jm_miller