ST. GEORGE — Utah law enforcement and emergency responders are overwhelmed with people making false claims of ingesting drugs during an arrest, said Utah Rep. Ken Ivory.

Effective May 1, unless vetoed by Gov. Spencer Cox, those who do lie about ingesting narcotics face even stiffer penalties.

Ivory and Utah Sen. Keith Grover introduced the penalty for false statement during drug arrest bill, designated HB 211 in the 2024 Utah State Legislature.

Since passing both the House and Senate on Feb. 15, the bill, which is in the process of being enrolled by the Legislative Research and General Counsel, “makes it a crime for an actor arrested for a crime to falsely claim the actor ingested drugs before the arrest,” as written in the legislation. 

In a previous report by St. George News, St. George Police Lt. Johnny Heppler said it is not very common for those being arrested in Southern Utah to claim to have ingested drugs — but it happens.

Stock image | Photo by JHVEPhotos, Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Unified Police Department Sgt. Aymee Race said the practice is all too common in Salt Lake City, where suspects potentially try the tactic to delay going to jail. Instead, they take a patrolman off the streets.

“When this happens an officer has to take the individual to a hospital and stay with them until they are cleared medically to be taken to jail,” Race said. “This can take a couple of hours and keeps the officer from returning to their duties.”

Race said they believe the penalty will reduce the number of individuals falsely claiming to have ingested narcotics during an arrest.

“An officer can inform the person who made the claim that if they go to the hospital and the individual hasn’t ingested drugs, they will receive another charge on top of what they are being arrested for,” Race said. “This can allow the individual to take back their statement causing the hospital and law enforcement resources to not be wasted — and the individual won’t be charged with the class B misdemeanor.”

A St. George Police Department vehicle waiting at the St. George Regional Hospital emergency room, St. George, Utah, Jan. 16, 2024 | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News

All three police departments St. George News spoke to about the bill were in favor of the legislation.

Heppler said he supports the legislation if it helps officers in their duties while also maintaining safety for the general public. Washington City Police Department Lt. Kory Klotz expressed similar sentiments.

Under the current Utah criminal code, lying to a peace officer is defined as a person who “knowingly gives or causes to be given false information to any peace officer or any state or local government agency or personnel with a purpose of inducing the recipient of the information to believe that another has committed an offense.”

Should the bill be enacted, starting in May, language will be added that specifically addresses false information related to ingesting drugs that lead to an officer transporting the suspect to a facility for medical clearance.

File photo of Purgatory Correctional Facility, Hurricane, Utah, Oct. 15, 2018 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

Still a misdemeanor, the penalty for the offense will be upgraded to a class B. Current Utah law states that class B misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for the first offense.

According to the legislation, the bill does not create a new program or cost any public funds when enacted. Instead, municipalities could see increased revenue from costs that could be added to a convicted person’s fines and restitution.

These include but are not limited to: prosecutors, $812 per case; public defense, $975 per case; county jails, estimated $83 per day, per offender for incarceration costs; justice courts, estimated $38 in court fees per case.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2024 Utah Legislature by clicking here.

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