Judge slaps Utah with injunction on police powers

May 13 2013 - 5:55pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- A judge slapped an injunction Monday on a Utah law that sought to limit the police powers of the U.S. Forest Service and other federal land-management agencies.

The law had been set to take effect Tuesday. State officials say they're trying to stop federal officers from citing people for driving violations on and off federal lands. Defendants have to travel long distances to a federal court and pay hefty fines to settle violations, they say.

"They're using our laws to cite people," Rep. Michael Noel, R-Kanab, said Monday. "They crossed the line."

Utah Attorney General John Swallow agreed to let U.S. District Judge David Nuffer issue the injunction, pending a June 28 hearing on whether Utah has the authority to limit federal police powers.

"We don't want Utah citizens going before a federal magistrate for a speeding ticket," Swallow said Monday in a statement. "Federal officers should be enforcing federal laws, and state and local officers should be enforcing state and local laws. We are concerned about the federal government once again encroaching on states' rights."

Noel said federal officers are aggressively stopping and questioning visitors on public lands for any infraction, even expired license plates. The effort has increased in recent years as Utah counties take action to reopen dirt paths closed by the federal government, he said.

Utah sheriffs have said they are upset with federal interference.

The conflict underscores a backlash against federal control in a state where nearly two-thirds of the land is owned by the federal government. Most of it is national forest and range lands, along with five national parks and several national monuments.

Utah's new law would make it a misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for a federal officer to enforce any state or local laws, on or off federal lands.

Utah "intends to enforce the law against employees of the federal government," said a complaint filed Monday by U.S. Attorney David Barlow. "These employees enforce federal law and regulations governing the national forests, some of which adopt or otherwise incorporate standards from the laws of the state in which the forests are located."

 

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