Natural formations need law for protection against vandalism
If David Hall and Glenn Taylor had posted a viral YouTube video of one of them pushing over a Utah State Parks ranger station or outhouse, there would be no question of them being charged with a crime. And no question of what crime they would have been charged with.
But because the video shows Taylor destroying an ancient rock formation known as a goblin, in Utah's Goblin Valley State Park, law enforcement officials in Emery County are at a bit of a loss about what to do next.
Like many of his constituents, state Rep. Dixon Pitcher, a Republican from Ogden, was shocked and appalled to hear that, dreadful as the wanton destruction at Goblin Valley was, it's not clear just what kind of crime it is. So he is rightly hurrying to prepare a bill for the next session of the Utah Legislature, which opens in January, to clear all that up.
It may be a difficult statute to draft. But it really needs to be attempted.
It seems that because it isn't easy to put a monetary value on a goblin, and thus assess the value of the damage done, lawyers and investigators working with the Emery County Attorney's Office are still trying to puzzle out just what statute the two might have violated.
While it would to be hard to find anyone who thinks that the toppling of the goblin was anything less than vandalism, experts say Utah's laws on the subject seem to presume that property damaged by vandals will be private property or, at least, human-made things with easily discernible price tags.
The fact that the goblins in Goblin Valley have a great deal of historic and aesthetic value, but no easily identifiable market price, has slowed any filing of criminal charges or even any formal determination of what specific statute or statutes might have been violated.
Nobody built them. Nobody bought them. There are no receipts, no, as the real estate brokers and tax appraisers say, comparables. Because they are, by law and in fact, without compare.
County officials have even asked some engineers to try to put a price on restoring the particular stone formation in question. But that might be pure conjecture, given that such a project has never been done, and that it might not be a very good idea, given the collateral damage that would be done by getting the necessary earth-moving equipment on site.
Because of the constitutional prohibition of ex post facto legislation, our pathetic goblin topplers will have to be prosecuted, if they are prosecuted, under the laws that were on the books at the time of the incident. The next ones, though, should not be.