A Conversation About Sgt. Nate Hutchinson of Weber Co. (Utah) S.O., the Matthew Stewart Case, and Some Finer Points of Law
By Ken K. Gourdin
Weber County, Utah Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Nate Hutchinson was honored by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund with its Officer of the Month Award in February of 2013 for removing two of his wounded colleagues from the home of suspected drug dealer Matthew David Stewart, who opened fire on officers during a drug raid, wounded several, and killed Agent Jared Francom. See the story, which I happened across while searching for something unrelated in my Cyberspace travels, in The Salt Lake Tribune here, last accessed today: http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56047871-78/hutchinson-officers-stewart-sheriff.html.csp. For more of my commentary on the Stewart case, see here (also last accessed today): https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2013/06/14/stewart-was-a-poor-standard-bearer-for-drug-legalization/. In response to the Tribune story linked above, I said:
Good on you, Sgt. Hutchinson. I doubt you frequent this corner of cyberspace, but if you happen to see this, you’ll quickly realize that this corner of cyberspace attracts a disproportionate amount of criticism of law enforcement officers and of those who defend them. Please know that, despite the ubiquitousness of those sentiments, there are those who appreciate very much your service and sacrifice and those of your fellow officers. Congratulations, and be safe.
Another poster responded (capitalization and punctuation as in original): WHAT “sacrifice?” He KILLED AN INNOCENT MAN! That much has been PROVEN. Then he was involved in ANOTHER illegal raid that injured the innocent homeowner and got one of his fellow officers killed (most likely by friendly fire)! WHO sacrificed the MOST?
I cannot be certain, but I believe the “innocent man” to whom he refers is Todd Blair, whom Weber-Morgan Metro Narcotics Strike Force (Utah) officers killed. (Blair had armed himself with a golf club). If he is referring, instead, to the suspect in this case, Matthew David Stewart, either he has his facts wrong (because Stewart died after committing suicide) or he blames officers despite the fact that Stewart died at his own hand. I responded, “If you have evidence that Agent Francom was killed by friendly fire, bring it forward. Otherwise, your accusation isn’t worth the [bandwidth] required to host it.”
Another poster stated that police routinely “break into innocent people’s homes” and “kill unarmed civilians.” In hindsight, I should have asked where the bullets that hit officers in this raid came from if Stewart was “unarmed.” While a lot of people have speculated that officers were hurt and/or killed by ammunition fired by their fellow officers, insofar as I know, there has never been any evidence presented that those injuries, along with the death that came about, resulted from friendly fire. I further responded:
The police were at Mr. Stewart’s home pursuant to a duly-authorized search warrant. There was nothing unlawful about their entry, nor did they violate Mr. Stewart’s rights. If a jury finds otherwise in a civil suit filed after the criminal case concludes, I’ll eat the crow I deserve. I won’t hold my breath for you to do the same.
It my [sic] have been authorized but the question is how it was obtained. If the warrant was obtained under false pretenses or the officer(s) lied to the judge and it is found to be a violation of the subjects [sic] constitutional rights under the 4th Ammendment [sic] it makes the warrant unlawful. Don’t hold your breath I would hate to see you pass out. I’ll provide the crow.
I’m amused that he removed the word duly from my previous reply to him, as it renders all of the potential scenarios he raised—that police obtained it under false pretenses, that they lied, or that they otherwise violated the Fourth Amendment—moot. I believe the word duly is an adverbial modification of the word due, the same word used in the term due process. Thus, if the warrant was duly authorized, then, by definition, officers could not have lied to obtain it or otherwise violated Stewart’s Fourth Amendment or other constitutional rights. (People do what this poster did all the time in argumentation: it’s called “moving the goal posts,” and it’s patently transparent.) I replied:
I’ll be keenly interested in whether any attacks mounted against the warrant by the defense at trial are successful. If they are, I’ll provide my own crow (I’ve got the rifle and the birdshot ;-D). The only things you’d need to bring are some mustard, ketchup, salt and pepper. Nothing short of the warrant (and evidence obtained and charges resulting therefrom) being thrown out, however, will satisfy you and those of your ilk. According to folks of that stripe, the cops are corrupt, or if they’re not, the prosecutor’s corrupt, or if he’s not, the judge is corrupt, or if he’s not, the jurors are stupid …. and on, and on, and on … ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
Another person accused the officers of “breaking and entering”—as though no no-knock warrant (although this warrant was knock-and-announce), whether duly authorized or not, ever could be executed without breaking the law. I replied:
Breaking and Entering is a common law crime. Common law crimes were abolished in Utah when the Criminal Code was adopted. And as snoopyowns points out, officers were on the premises pursuant to a duly-authorized warrant. Warrants are not issued on mere suspicion, but rather on probable cause. As I have previously pointed out in this corner of cyberspace, there are places where marijuana is legal. If Stewart wanted to grow, possess, and/or use it, he was perfectly welcome to move to one of those jurisdictions, although twelve plants, along with additional marijuana in a freezer, likely would exceed the legal limits for possession even in states where it is legal. And yes, Sgt. Hutchinson’s actions DO deserve to be lauded. He saved two of his colleagues while taking heavy fire.
Another poster, no doubt doubting my legal acumen (such as it is), asked, “Common law crimes were abolished? What, exactly, do you mean by that?” I replied, “I mean exactly what the Utah Criminal Code says. See Utah Criminal Code, Title 76, Chapter 1, Section 105, available here: http://le.utah.gov/code/TITLE76/htm/76_01_010500.htm.” He replied, “They were, but, at the same time, they aren’t.” I lost track of (didn’t follow) the thread after this reply. Had I not done so, I should have asked him why the Code apparently doesn’t mean what it says—that common law crimes are abolished hereunder, and that no conduct is a crime unless the Code makes it one. I also should have asked him about the prospect of the Criminal Code and common law crimes existing simultaneously when they often contradict one another. What would a party do then? Cite whichever source is most favorable to one’s position?
While I’m keenly aware that more than a few people have forgotten more about the law than I’ll ever know (and I’ll certainly pay them due respect and defer to them when it’s appropriate to do so), as always, it’s fun sparring about the law in Cyberspace, especially with the all-but-completely ignorant.