Utah Stand Your Ground Bill Would Expand Self-Defense Law

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The Utah House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee recently voted in favor of recommending a bill that would broaden Utah’s existing “Stand Your Ground” laws or self-defense laws by explicitly establishing the right to defend against an attacker “even if safety could be achieved by retreating.”  If passed, the bill could affect a number of defendants charged with violent crimes in Utah by establishing a new rule that “the failure to retreat may not be introduced as evidence” in criminal cases.

Utah Self-Defense Bill Would Ban Using Failure to Retreat as Evidence Against Defendants

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Earlier this month, the Utah House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 6-4 in favor of recommending HB259, which seeks to expand Utah’s existing self-defense laws.  The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cory Maloy (R-Lehi), aims to alter the wording of the Utah self-defense statute, Utah Code § 76-2-402, to include language specifying that people are not required to retreat “even if safety could be achieved by retreating.”

At present, the statute states, under Utah Code § 76-2-402(1)(b), “A person is justified in using force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury only if the person reasonably believes that force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury” to themselves or another person:

  • Due to an attacker’s use of force.
  • In order to stop a “forcible felony” from being committed.  Defined under Utah Code § 76-2-402(4)(a), a “forcible felony” is any of the following:
    • Aggravated Assault
    • Aggravated Murder
    • Aggravated Sexual Abuse of a Child
    • Aggravated Sexual Assault
    • Arson
    • Burglary
    • Forcible Sodomy
    • Kidnapping
    • Manslaughter
    • Mayhem
    • Object Rape
    • Object Rape of a Child
    • Rape
    • Rape of a Child
    • Robbery
    • Sexual Abuse of a Child

The current statute also states, under Utah Code § 76-2-402(3), “A person does not have a duty to retreat from the force or threatened force… in a place where that person has lawfully entered or remained.”

If successful, HB259 could have a dramatic impact upon defendants charged with violent offenses by creating a rule that failure to retreat could no longer be used against defendants as evidence.  More specifically, the bill would prohibit juries and judges from weighing a defendant’s failure to retreat as a decision-making factor when assessing whether the defendant’s actions were reasonable.

Police Oppose HB259, Sponsor Says Bill Protects Rights

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The bill has drawn mixed reactions from lobbyists and legislators.  Among the bill’s opponents was Utah Chiefs of Police Association lobbyist David Spatafore, who said that police chiefs in Utah “were not comfortable” with HB259 because the bill “could embolden some [people] to act when they are not required to act in that certain way.”

Concerned about civilians’ lack of training, Spatafore added, “Law enforcement officers are trained to make those decisions in a split second,” Spatafore said. “The average [person] is not.”

However, supporters of HB259 say the bill works to ensure that Utah residents have adequate rights to self-defense, arguing civilians should not be denied such rights on the basis of training.

Bill sponsor Maloy sought to reassure the bill’s opponents that HB259 would not “embolden” people to act with excessive force.

“There’s no room for provoking violence or provoking aggression or being an aggressor yourself.  We are not advocating any kind of aggression at all,” he stated.

He added, “The intent here is to just make sure that if someone is innocent and they find themself in a self-defense situation, that their rights are protected.”

Representatives who voted in favor of recommending the bill to the Utah House included Rep. Steve Eliason (R-Sandy), Rep Adam Gardiner (R-West Jordan), Rep. Kelly Miles (R-Ogden), Rep. Lee Perry (R-Perry), Rep. Edward Redd (R-Logan), and Rep. Mike Winder (R-West Valley City).  Representatives who voted against HB259 were Rep. Becky Edwards (R-North Salt Lake), Rep. Sandra Hollins (D-Salt Lake City), Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City), and Rep. Elizabeth Weight (D-West Valley City).

Salt Lake Defense Lawyer for Assault, Weapons Possession, and Violent Crimes

Depending on the nature of the crime you have been charged with in Utah, acting in self-defense may be a possible defense strategy.  However, you need to review your legal options with a skilled and experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.  The sooner you contact criminal lawyer in Utah for assistance, the sooner we can begin building a defense strategy designed to protect your Constitutional rights and minimize the penalties you face.  It may even be possible to have your case dismissed.

Salt Lake City assault lawyer Darwin Overson represents defendants charged with felonies and misdemeanors in towns and cities throughout Utah.  For a free legal consultation with Darwin Overson, contact the law offices of Overson Law at (801) 733-1308 right away.

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