Defendants of WVC Police narcotics unit want cases revisited

Posted at 9:21 PM, Apr 16, 2013

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah - Defendants from cases tied to West Valley City's disbanded narcotics unit are starting to question whether or not they were fairly prosecuted.

Salt Lake City defense attorney Susanne Gustin said she's already heard from two clients who want their cases revisited.

"They've just said, 'My case involved the narcotics unit and can you look into that,'" said Gustin.

As the Salt Lake County District Attorney closes the book on more and more cases tied to the city, Gustin is beginning to open them.

"We're going to have to go through old files to see if any of our clients were affected by the narcotics unit, see who was exactly involved and check out the evidence and see what happens," she said. "This is going to be a lot of work because prosecutors and defense attorneys are going to be going through all their files to see if there were irregularities, and I think you can presume there may be irregularities because the entire unit was involved."

Revisiting old case loads may not necessarily translate into new ones, though. Governmental immunity would protect the police department if it was acting within the scope of its duties. However Gustin doesn't believe it was.

She said, "This is a different situation because they're acting outside the scope of their duties and potentially there's illegal conduct. If it's part of the entire department, then that makes a difference, too. It's not just one rogue officer that may be a problem, but the entire unit."

The most recent dismissal of cases by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office involved more than just drug cases, but ones that were merely handled by officers from the unit.

District Attorney Sim Gill said, "Any officer or any group of officers that violate the fundamental constitutional rights of individuals in their zealousness to put together a case or prosecute it is not a case that we will be prosecuting."

And it could mean a case from Gustin's past will have a different verdict in the future.

"If you have this many cases that are being dismissed, then I think it's fair to say that there are people out there who were wrongly convicted, wrongly plead guilty based upon improper evidence handling, or whatever else was going on," said Gustin.

She expects the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, to which she belongs, will form a task force to begin reviewing old cases.