Proposal would allow Idaho police to make misdemeanor arrests without warrants

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Ryan Blake
The Times-News

BOISE — Police could make arrests for crimes they did not personally witness under a proposed constitutional amendment that could protect victims of domestic violence.

The Senate State Affairs Committee introduced legislation Wednesday that would amend Idaho’s Constitution to allow law enforcement to make warrantless misdemeanor arrests — based on probable cause — when the offense is not committed in the officer’s presence.

The bill is a response to a June ruling from the Idaho Supreme Court that determined it was unconstitutional for an officer to make a misdemeanor arrest without seeing the crime.

Some praised the court decision for strengthening due-process rights, but law enforcement, prosecutors and victim advocates said it could make it harder to make arrests for domestic violence.

That ruling created some complicated issues, Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, told the committee Wednesday. The state needs to begin the process of discussing the scope of those issues and what, if any, action should be taken, Burgoyne said.

“I’m not here to say that the (court’s) decision is in any respect erroneous,” he said. “It’s simply a question as to whether or not the standard that (the ruling) sets down is the standard that, even if constitutionally mandated, we should look at changing.”

Burgoyne gave several examples of instances where a police officer could not intervene under the ruling. If a man punched another man in a bar, several witnesses tell the police they saw it happen, and the assailant says he will do it again, the officer still cannot make an arrest, he said.

Sen. Cherie Buckner-Webb, D-Boise, said she was concerned that the proposal might affect communities of color that can be misidentified and mistreated by police.

Burgoyne agreed but said police already have the power to arrest people.

“We give law enforcement officers power,” he said. “Whenever we give them power, we run the risk ... that there will be a bad apple, and it will be abused.”

A constitutional amendment must pass the House and Senate with a two-thirds supermajority and then receive approval from voters in November.