Responding to a defense attorney’s request to have the evidence declared “protected” under the First Amendment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Utah said Jeffs’ religious beliefs are not under attack.
“Defendant is being prosecuted because he fled to avoid prosection, not because of the religious organization to which be belongs,” assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Bennett wrote in a motion filed late Monday in federal court in Salt Lake City. “Consequently, the United States is not using this information to determine who belongs to defendant’s church, but rather whether defendant violated (the law).”
Jeffs, 51, was indicted by a federal grand jury on a single charge of unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. He was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list until his arrest outside Las Vegas in August 2006. Since then, Jeffs’ lawyers have fought the federal government on the computers, hard drives, debit cards, letters, documents and other items seized in the Cadillac Escalade Jeffs was travelling in.
Defense attorneys claim many of the items are “sacred” and violate Jeffs’ constitutionally protected religious rights. They also seek to prevent any of the documents from being handed over to lawyers for the United Effort Plan Trust. The UEP is the financial arm of the FLDS Church, until it was taken over by the courts in 2005.
“The government can have no compelling interest in providing these documents to a civil litigant,” defense attorney Walter Bugden Jr. wrote in his motion filed last month.
Federal prosecutors disagree in their response. A judge has yet to decide if the documents should be handed over to UEP lawyers, who are tracing disappearing assets and money.
Jeffs is facing state charges accusing him of performing a child-bride marriage. A hearing on suppressing evidence in that case is set for later this month in St. George’s 5th District Court.