SALT LAKE CITY — A state audit indicates Utah’s district and juvenile courts inadequately manage evidence and have a lack of internal controls to track exhibits, among other issues.
The audit, released to the public on Tuesday, outlines a number of issues found in state courts and includes a handful of examples of mishandled evidence found in Utah courthouses. The audited district and juvenile courts were not specifically named in the report.
One of the issues auditors found were “several” records of narcotics, firearms and money that were improperly marked as destroyed or released, the audit says. In one courthouse, auditors found a box marked a Bio Hazard that was open. As they continued to investigate, they learned the box contained materials from a methamphetamine lab, including a “crystal substance.” The box had reportedly been in the evidence room since 2001, according to the report.
In one court, auditors found “leaky packages” in a cabinet that contained controlled substance. On another occasion, a court exhibit manager “spilled a white powder on a desk” while showing auditors the content of a box that contained “several” controlled substances.
Another issue discovered by auditors was a lack of controls for the evidence rooms themselves, with all of the nine courts examined having no access logs or documentation of previous inventory. Most had no security cameras or alarms for the rooms as well, according to the report.
Auditors also found that courts do not conduct regular inspections or audits of their evidence rooms, nor do courts take inventory of evidence in their possession. Auditors discovered a lack of training for court clerks and exhibit managers on handling, storing or destroying evidence. Both of these findings were cause for auditors to recommend additional training to remedy the issues.
The report went on to indicate that some evidence found in courts has been in their possession for decades.
“The majority of the controlled substances and firearms stored by the courts are from old cases dating as far back as the 1980s,” the audit read.
Some clerks told auditors that they did not know how to handle evidence during court proceedings because they rarely have cases go to trial.
“In fact, some clerks could not remember the last time their court had a criminal trial,” the audit says. “Even so, it is possible that these courts will have trials at some point and, therefore, should be prepared to handle and store evidence accordingly.”
In response to the audit, state court administrator Judge Mary Noonan wrote that steps will be taken immediately to build upon the recommendations made by the state auditor’s office. Court officials will begin to compile a baseline inventory at all district and juvenile courts in the coming months; and officials will begin to draft detailed evidence and inventory policies, Noonan wrote.
The recent audit was published just months after the Utah State Auditor’s Office issued another report regarding evidence storage at Utah police departments.
Auditors found that out of the seven departments analyzed, five of the seven agencies had missing money, firearms, controlled substances or drug paraphernalia from their evidence lockers, according to the audit report released in May. None of those departments audited were named in the audit.
In 2018, the issue of evidence lockups was scrutinized in Weber County after an evidence technician at the Weber County Sheriff’s Office was found to be high on methamphetamine while at work. She was put on leave and later fired from the department.
The evidence technician, Candice Follum, was later charged with 20 counts of destroying or altering public records, a third-degree felony, and 20 counts of possession or use of a controlled substance, a class A misdemeanor. In October, she later pleaded guilty to all 40 counts and was given a jail sentence.