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Editor’s note: Libertas Institute has been closely following and influencing policy issues related to the use of police authority including task force raids, police militarization, and forcible entry warrants. Conventional wisdom suggests that law enforcement officials are at odds with those who champion civil liberties, but as this interview demonstrates, that narrative is not entirely accurate.

The following is an edited transcription of an interview Libertas Institute conducted with Christopher Gebhardt about these issues. Gebhardt is a 15 year police veteran and three-time SWAT commander in Utah. The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.

Libertas Institute: Describe for us your law enforcement service and experience.

Christopher Gebhardt: I started my career in Washington, D.C. working for the Metropolitan Police Department in 1990 where I finished as a Lieutenant. After that, I worked for a while in the corporate world before coming to Utah where I got back into law enforcement and worked in Utah law enforcement for seven years. I served a total of about 15 years directly in law enforcement.

LI: What type of experience did you have in SWAT?

CG: I was part of several SWAT teams here in the Salt Lake Valley. I started out as a base operator, got promoted, and worked as a team leader for several different teams and worked with a lot of the SWAT teams in the valley.

LI: What was the difference, if any, between your experience in D.C. and Utah? Were there any differences in police mentality, approach, or tactics?

Here it seemed the local police officers and deputies didn’t really dive into case law that much, or as much as I think they should.

CG: I think there was a big regional difference in approach in the Northeast compared to my experience in Utah. For example, the academy back east was much harder to get through. You had to be able to recite verbatim the 4th Amendment because it was much more embedded in the culture of law enforcement there. Case law was always being brought up and trained and instilled, whereas here in Utah, I think that is lacking a bit. Here it seemed the local police officers and deputies didn’t really dive into case law that much, or as much as I think they should.

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During a recent public event, Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court was asked about the NSA’s surveillance programs, made public through the leaks provided by Edward Snowden. 

While conveying concern about judges being asked to decide questions dealing with national security, Scalia replied, ”It’s truly stupid that [the Supreme] court is going to be the last word on [the constitutionality of NSA surveillance].”

We agree that it’s stupid. Lawyers in black robes, in their unelected positions as judges, have steadily weakened the constitutional protections originally intended under the 4th amendment. And the reliance by the citizenry upon the opinions of these lawyers as the last best hope of protecting our rights has been proven, time and time again, to be misplaced and naïve.

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“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” —Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Imagine government authorities monitoring your every movement in addition to your every word. Of course, this is now easier to imagine in our post-Snowden world. Fiction meets reality in local law enforcement, for example with technology allowing police officers to indirectly tap your cell phone by fooling it into thinking that their suitcase-sized surveillance device was the nearest cell phone tower. Taking a page out of the NSA playbook, law enforcement agencies around the country are acquiring and using this new technology.

The device mentioned above—one of many technological tools enabling surveillance of the citizenry—is known as a “Stingray.” This telecommunications device intercepts mobile communications by funneling all nearby connections through itself before passing them on to actual cell phone towers. It is highly portable and can be deployed anywhere. It has the ability to allow law enforcement to not only obtain cell phone location data—something they already obtain quite routinely from telecom service providers—but also call records and text message logs. While the specific devices known to the public are not supposed to be able to obtain call or text content, the reality is that we live in an age when such capabilities exist, even if not currently used. While some police agencies and investigators recognize the need to obtain a warrant for this activity, many do not; research indicates that warrants are not being obtained consistently for the implementation of this technology.

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Editor’s note: Libertas has been closely following the stories of birth fathers around the country who are defrauded by mothers who exploit weaknesses in Utah law to put their children up for adoption over the wishes—and without the consent of—such fathers. Recently, several of these fathers have filed a class action civil suit against the state of Utah.

The following is an edited transcription of an interview Libertas conducted with Rob Manzanares, one of the plaintiffs in the class action suit and one of the more notable cases in Utah. Manzanares has been involved in court battles for years, costing nearly half a million dollars, to win custody of his daughter, Kaia. The comments in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of Libertas Institute.

Libertas Institute: Tell us about yourself and your story.

Rob Manzanares: My name is Rob Manzanares and I’m from Colorado. My story is about my love for my daughter. It begins in 2008 when I was living in a serious relationship with my former girlfriend—my daughter’s mother. We had moved in together and were planning on starting a family together. We took steps toward that end, probably faster than we should have, but we were definitely taking the right steps to become a family.

We found out we were pregnant about 8 months into our relationship. For me, that was the most exciting day of my life. I was 30 years old at the time and had just finished a masters degree. I was in between jobs and was figuring out what direction to take in my career. I always loved children and knew I wanted to have a family after finishing my education and so I was extremely excited to find out that we were pregnant. We sat down together and started making educated decisions on how to proceed with the pregnancy and how to raise a child together. My former girlfriend also had a six year old daughter from a previous marriage who was living with us. It was a really happy time around our household when we found out we were going to have a child.

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Friday, March 21, 2014 | 3 comments

The End Goal of the Common Core

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Whether you love or hate the Common Core, it’s important to understand the end goal its architects have been striving for. Once Utahns realize what that goal is, we suspect few will be willing to support its use in this state.

In 1995, the National Governor’s Association invited Louis Gerstner to speak at the their annual meeting. Gerstner was CEO of IBM, and a longtime advocate of education reform. “You are the CEOs of the organizations that fund and oversee the country’s public schools,” he told the assembled governors. “That means you are responsible for their health. They are very sick at the moment.”

The following year, Gerstner held his own education summit for governors, telling them that ”if they come, he would pair them with a major corporate executive from their state… to back them with strong support” for the reforms he advocated. Attendees at this summit pledged to support these reforms, and afterwards a group of CEOs and governors founded Achieve, Inc. to drive the reform movement.

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“The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property”—John Locke, Second Treatise of Civil Government

Last night the City Council for the City of Springville considered an ordinance that would permit residential homeowners to keep and raise chickens in their backyard—albeit subject to heavy regulations and a license. After robust public comment, including input from Libertas Institute, the ordinance was passed with only one dissenting vote. While we applaud this move and welcome Springville to the growing club of cities allowing residential hens, we argue that it shouldn’t take an official ordinance to permit something that is fundamental to private property rights in the first place.

The property rights that John Locke spoke of in his treatise were not just residential property rights, but the right to productively use one’s own property for gain, subsistence, and enterprise. Since the 13th century when King John acquiesced to the Magna Carta, the English tradition of property rights has led to a modern world where nearly any person can enjoy the ownership of property. However, over just the last century in our country, a troubling trend of growing government authority in our lives has placed property rights under direct and sustained attack. From asset forfeiture to the expanded use of eminent domain, and even to zoning regulations, property rights have waned over the last century.

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Part I:
What Nullification Should Not Be

Nullification means many things to many people. Perhaps the most extreme version is when a state passes a law purporting to override a federal law. Last year, for example, Missouri nearly passed a bill that explicitly claimed to make the Federal Gun Control Act of no effect within Missouri and making it a misdemeanor for federal agents to enforce federal gun laws. The bill justified its nullification on the grounds that “The people of the several states have given Congress the power ‘to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes,’ but ‘regulating commerce’ does not include the power to limit citizens’ right to keep and bear arms . . .”

The federal government regularly oversteps the powers delegated to it by the Constitution, and states are justifiably frustrated and outraged. However, the version of nullification resorted to by Missouri puts states in the position of delineating the boundaries of the Constitution. This is problematic for several reasons: first, it could potentially lead to fifty different interpretations of the Constitution; second, there is no guarantee that states will do a better job of interpreting the Constitution than federal courts. While most proponents of nullification see it as a way to counteract federal overreach, there is no reason that it could not also be used by states to circumvent federal Constitutional protections. Finally, it undermines the legitimate purposes for which the federal government was created. For a federal government to be of any use, it needs to be supreme in certain areas. (Of course, its supremacy is far more limited than many today claim it to be.)

A recent Supreme Court case, McCullen v. Coakley, highlights the second of these problems. McCullen involves a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics which protesters may not enter. At issue is whether or not this violates the rights of protesters to free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

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Priority bills all passed either unanimously, or with little dissent

Salt Lake City, UT (January 22, 2014) — In an effort to better protect both polices officers and the public at large, Libertas Institute has proposed reforms to Utah law regarding authorization over forcible entry warrants. House Bill 70, with both Republican and Democrat sponsorship and support, would establish a state-wide standard for judges to follow in making sure that authority to enter a citizen’s home is given only when absolutely necessary.

“While laws must be enforced, we are concerned that violent and confrontational methods to execute warrants are being authorized when not actually necessary,” said Libertas Institute President Connor Boyack. “Our goal here is to protect people on both sides of the gun—police officers and their suspects—such that the risk to life and property are minimized to the extent possible.”

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The following op-ed was published in the Salt Lake Tribune.


While the Utah legislature was divided this year when it came to issues such as air quality, same-sex marriage, Count My Vote, or education, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is one place where legislators found common ground.

We live in an age when the principles this clause was intended to protect are under constant threat. For example, the many beneficial technological advances we enjoy often come at the expense of our privacy.  Additionally, the trend of militarizing police officers means that tactics and weapons designed for overseas combat are being deployed in our communities.

Four key pieces of legislation, each rooted in the Fourth Amendment, worked their way through both the Utah House and Senate with relative ease. Both of our organizations were involved in the drafting and promoting of these bills, and we strongly believe that once signed into law by the Governor, they will make Utah a better state.

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Friday, March 14, 2014 | 6 comments

2014 Legislative Report

Libertas Institute is primarily an educational institution, spreading the message of liberty through articles, lectures, media, and other outlets. Part of our work also entails proposing reforms that would make the laws more consistent with these principles. Last night, the 2014 legislative session concluded in Utah. Here is our report. (And here’s how legislators voted.)

But first—we want to thank our staff, our board members, our attorneys, our intern, and our research volunteers whose time and dedication made a significant impact this year!

Libertas Bills

The following is a summary of the bills we proposed:

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