WHEN IS THE USE OF DEADLY FORCE JUSTIFIED UNDER THE LAW?
With current events what they are nationwide, and the media coverage of workplace violence and other violence committed against the general public, it is appropriate to discuss when the use of deadly force would be considered “justified” under Utah law. This is not intended to cover all aspects of the use of deadly force, but give an idea of the basics.
First and foremost, the use of deadly force is something that should not be taken lightly. Often times a person who decides to use deadly force against another person does not get a chance for a “do-over”. For those of you in Utah who hold a Concealed Weapons Permit, or choose to open carry a weapon, you must be prepared to make the decision and act responsibly. Proper training is strongly encouraged, both in the use of your chosen weapon as well as proper mental preparation and understanding of the law.
STAND YOUR GROUND
Utah law states that the use of force “intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury” (deadly force) is justified when a person “reasonably believes that force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury” either to that person, or to another, or to prevent a forcible felony. In Utah the term “forcible felony” covers a wide range of crimes, ranging from murder and aggravated assault to arson and robbery. It must also be pointed out that deadly force does not necessarily require the use of a gun, or knife, or other weapon commonly thought of. Remember, the statute only requires force intended or likely to cause death or serious bodily injury. Something as simple as pushing someone away, depending on the situation and location, can be classified as deadly force. Utah no longer espouses the “duty to retreat” that was once common, a person is justified in using deadly force as long as that person is in a place where they are lawfully allowed to be.
Utah also allows what is commonly referred to as the castle doctrine, which is the use of force by a person to prevent another who is attempting to unlawfully enter their residence. In Utah this is called “force in defense of habitation.” Specifically, this statute allows for the use of deadly force only when there is a “reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or serious bodily injury if the entry or attempted entry is unlawful and is made or attempted by use of force, or in a violent and tumultuous manner, or surreptitiously or by stealth, or for the purpose of committing a felony”. Utah also allows the use of deadly force by a person in defense of others on real property other than his/her residence (i.e. workplace) under similar circumstances.
SEEK LEGAL REPRESENTATION
Should you find yourself in a situation where you have used deadly force against another you are likely to face one of two outcomes. You will either be cleared of all wrongdoing (justified use of deadly force) or you will be charged with a crime. No matter which outcome seems likely you would do well to seek out an experienced attorney immediately, preferably one who has experience in dealing with firearms related offenses and the use of deadly force.