Can Self-Defense be Used as a Reason for Assault in Utah?

When police officers respond to a violent altercation, they are seldom going to check for who started it at that moment. Their primary goal is to take control of the situation and detain anyone they believe to be a threat. Unfortunately, this means that some people who were completely justified in defending themselves get arrested and charged with a crime. Naturally, these individuals may be quite upset and wondering whether there is a way to vindicate themselves in the legal system.

While one’s actions will be considered assault in a lot of circumstances, you can assert self-defense as what is called an “affirmative defense” in a court of law. If you persuade the court of your right to self-defense, you will not be charged with the crime of assault. So, in a way, self-defense is a reason for assault, but if you successfully prove self-defense, you will not be convicted of the crime of assault.

For a confidential and free case review, call our Utah criminal defense attorneys from Overson Law at the number (801) 758-2287.

Understanding Assault in Utah

Before getting into self-defense, it is important to understand the crime of assault in Utah. Under Utah Code § 76-5-102, assault is intentionally inflicting bodily injury on another person or attempting to do the same. Additionally, doing acts that have a very good chance of causing bodily injury is also considered assault. For example, punching someone in the face is assault. Taking a swing at someone and missing is also assault. Finally, sticking your leg out to trip someone who is running has a very good chance of causing bodily injury, so that is also assault.

Aggravated assault is similar to assault but covers more severe conduct. It is detailed in Utah Code § 76-5-103, and is defined as any act that would constitute assault but with the use of either a dangerous weapon, choking someone by pressuring the throat, neck, mouth, or nose, or any other act likely to cause serious bodily injury.

A great deal of whether you are charged with assault or aggravated assault will depend on the extent of injuries to the other party. However, you still could be charged with aggravated assault even if the other party had minimal injuries. For example, if you point a gun at someone, they could charge you with aggravated assault.

Affirmative Defenses and Self-Defense Explained

Self-defense is what is known as an “affirmative defense.” An affirmative defense is a defense you raise by acknowledging that you did the conduct that constitutes the crime, but there are other circumstances or exceptions present that make it so that you cannot be convicted.

Self-defense is outlined in Utah Code § 76-2-402. It states that a person is justified in using force that can cause death or serious bodily injury if they have “reasonable belief” that the same is going to happen to them or someone else, or they believe that a felony is going to be committed. Essentially, if you need to defend yourself or someone else, you can and not be guilty of a very serious crime.

Exceptions to Self-Defense Claims

There are, however, exceptions to self-defense which would still leave you culpable of a crime.

First, if you initially provoke violent actions, you cannot use self-defense as an out. For example, if you try to rob someone, they pull a knife out, and then you wrest it from them and stab them, you will not be able to use self-defense as a defense because you were the one to initially start the violence. However, the fact that they pulled a deadly weapon when you were unarmed might allow the defense to work away.

Second, if you are committing a felony, self-defense is not a defense you can raise. So, if you are committing a burglary in someone’s house and the victim tries to beat you up in response, fighting back might still result in assault charges for you. Finally, combat by agreement does not allow for a self-defense affirmative defense. So, if two people agree to a duel to the death or a back alley boxing match, the winner does not get to claim self-defense.

Ways to Prove Self-Defense in a Criminal Proceeding

There are a lot of different things you can use as evidence to help back up your claim of self-defense. Of course, the more evidence you have to support your claims, the better, but we will be able to help you regardless of the supporting evidence you have for your claim. Our Utah criminal defense lawyers have compiled some of them in this section.


Perhaps the most convincing evidence in a claim for self-defense would be an eyewitness. They can corroborate your story and claim things like “they were attacked first” or “the victim nearly killed them” based on their firsthand experience. Alternatively, if you were acting the defense of others, the person you were defending could act as a witness. This may be particularly compelling to the judge and jury if their testimony is good.

Video Evidence

Video evidence can help support a claim of self-defense. For example, if a nearby store camera caught the assailant drawing a gun on you, you can use that evidence to support a claim of self-defense.

Expert/Forensic Evidence

Expert testimony can also help prove that you acted in self-defense if you are charged with assault. For example, certain bruising and other injuries appear differently on injuries from people defending themselves than on people doing the damage. If an expert witness can opine on this and say that any injuries you have are of a character suggesting self-defense, that can bolster your claim.

Call Our Utah Criminal Defense Lawyers Now

There is no time to waste, so call our North Salt Lake Criminal Defense Lawyers from Overson Law at the number (801) 758-2287 for a free, totally confidential case review.