Friday, February 1 2013, 10:48 PM MST
Good Question: Can Officers Pick The Laws They Enforce?
Reported by Matt Gephardt
Edited by Ryan Malavolta
Photography by Mike Sadowski and Jay Hancock
(KUTV) At most restaurants in Utah it is against the law to be served an alcoholic beverage before you order food. It's a law that is seldom enforced but earlier this year, some restaurateurs panicked after being told there would be a crackdown on the no-booze-before-food law.
Those fears were quickly dispatched by the alcohol enforcement people. The head of the Alcohol Enforcement Team, Troy Marx, says that restaurateurs need not worry. His department will not be enforcing that particular law.
But that development prompted a man named Mehul to ask, can officers choose not to enforce the law? It's a Good Question.
We took Mehul's question to Clayton Simms, a criminal defense attorney in Salt Lake City. He says the answer is, yes. Officers often do use digression when enforcing laws.
"They just choose to enforce more important crimes," Simms said.
Simms points out it's not just alcohol enforcement that doesn’t follow the letter of the law when enforcing. There are lots of laws on the books that are not enforced. Some of the more high profile examples include Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank saying he would not enforce an Arizona-style paper's-please immigration law. Also, former Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff opted not to prosecute polygamy which is, strictly speaking, illegal.
There are also less notable laws that are broken all the time with no punishment. For example, it is illegal to ride a bike and take both your hands off of the handle bar, it is illegal to hitch-hike, and if you placed a few bucks on the Super Bowl, watch out. In some Utah cities gambling at all is a “Class B” misdemeanor, the equivalent of being busted for driving drunk, which can carry a six month jail sentence.
Simms says there are literally thousands of laws on the books that are not enforced, which raises another good question:
“Does the law really exist if it's not enforced?" He asked. "It does and you have the potential for that to be a problem. But if no one cites you, you can live your whole life violating that law without any consequences."
Simms says that lawmakers will sometimes get angry that laws they pass are not enforced, however he says they can do something about it, like creating and then funding a special task force.
(Copyright 2013 Sinclair Broadcasting Group)