Data: Most Utah warrants approved in less than 3 minutes

More than half of all search warrants approved by Utah judges in the last year received less than three minutes of consideration, according to state data. (Photo: MGN)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — More than half of all search warrants approved by Utah judges in the last year received less than three minutes of consideration, according to state data.

Civil liberties advocates and defense attorneys say this is cause for concern and note that judges may not be carefully reviewing the information before signing off on the warrants, The Salt Lake Tribune reported last week.

The state data was acquired through a public records request by the Libertas Institute, a libertarian-leaning Utah think tank. The data is based off the state's electronic warrant system, which includes timestamps of when law enforcement officers submit the warrant, when the judge began viewing it, and when the judge approved it.

Judges approved nearly 9,400 warrants during a one-year period that began in April 2017, according to the data. While the average time was about eight minutes for a judge to review a warrant, nearly 60 percent of all warrants were approved in less than three minutes. About 3 percent of warrants were approved in less than 30 seconds.

The warrants include everything from permission to search a house to permission to draw the blood of a suspected drunken driver.

"There's very little that we take more seriously than the constitutional underpinnings of search warrants," said 3rd District Judge James Blanch. "You don't want to be a rubber stamp. Nobody wants to be a rubber stamp."

When Blanch is the on-call judge, he will receive warrant requests through email during work hours and by text at other times. Judges try to respond within a half-hour after the documents are submitted, he said. The 3rd District Court covers Salt Lake and Summit counties.

It typically takes five to 10 minutes to review the document, Blanch said, noting that every warrant is different. He will approve it if the officer has shown enough evidence that the crime was likely committed and that authorities would likely be able obtain more evidence of that crime.

About 2 percent of requested warrants were denied in the past two years, according to state data.

Before police enter a residence, people want to believe that a judge has carefully determined that there is probable cause for each warrant, said Steve Burton, the president of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. But the state data does give pause.

"Although we believe the vast majority of judges in Utah strive to be fair and thoughtful when considering the rights of the people, this new data is very concerning and Utahns need to know whether some judges are rubber-stamping our freedoms away," Burton said.

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