Lawful And Unlawful Use Of Force

Lawful And Unlawful Use Of Force

Utah is a stand your ground state. This means that one does not have to retreat, or find safety, before resorting to force. To qualify for this type of defense, the defendant has to be in a place where he or she has a legal right to be. Therefore, the stand your ground rule can apply on private or public property. A stand-your-ground law (sometimes called “line in the sand” or “no duty to retreat” law) establishes a right by which a person may defend one’s self or others (right of self-defense) against threats or perceived threats, even to the point of applying lethal force, regardless of whether safely retreating from the situation might have been possible. Such a law typically states that an individual has no duty to retreat from any place where they have a lawful right to be (though this varies from state to state) and that they may use any level of force if they reasonably believe the threat rises to the level of being an imminent and immediate threat of serious bodily harm and/or death. There are some situations where a person is not authorized to use self-defense. First, a person cannot use force in self-defense when he or she has initiated a conflict. This rule prevents people from starting fights and evading the legal consequences. Second, a suspect may not claim self-defense when he or she is assisting in, or committing a felony crime. Third, when a person voluntarily agrees to enter a fight (by words or conduct) he or she cannot use the defense. However, there is one exception to the rule prohibiting a claim of self-defense in a mutual fight. If the aggressor formally withdrawals from the fight and is attacked, he or she can rely on self-defense.

Utah Misdemeanor and Felony Assault Laws

An assault can be defined as an attempt to do bodily injury to another with unlawful force or violence, an act committed with unlawful force or violence that causes bodily injury to another, or as an act that creates substantial risk of bodily injury to another. It can be the use of unlawful force or the attempted use of unlawful force that creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another. In Utah, a person commits the crime of assault by causing, threatening, or attempting to cause injury to another person. Assaults that cause serious injuries, assaults committed with dangerous weapons, assaults by prisoners, and second and subsequent assaults against law enforcement officers and military personnel are felony assaults.

What are the Different Levels of Assault Charges in Utah?

There are different levels when it comes to the classification of assault. Simple assault is considered a Class B misdemeanor in Utah, and it occurs between two people that don’t have any prior relationship with one another. For example, a fist fight between two strangers would be considered a simple assault. If the victim of a simple assault is a pregnant woman, then the charge can be enhanced to a Class A misdemeanor.

What are the Factors That Would Enhance Assault Charges?

If there is substantial bodily injury or a weapon involved, then a Class B misdemeanor could be enhanced to a felony. An assault with a weapon is pretty broadly defined under the code, but it can enhance a charge of simple assault to a charge of aggravated assault, which is a third degree felony. A third degree felony is the lowest degree of felony in Utah. The order of charges from least serious to most serious is as follows: Class B misdemeanor, Class A misdemeanor, third degree felony, second degree felony, first degree felony. Felony level charges are very serious, especially assault charges.

Who Would Be Classified as a Special Victim in an Assault Case?

A special victim is a person who is over the age of 65 and/or somewhat incapacitated. Assault on a police officer can enhance an assault charge. Sometimes assault on a minor can enhance an assault charge, but there would also be a charge of child abuse. A person can potentially be charged for assault and child abuse if they assault someone who is under 18 years of age.

How Does the Degree of Injury Affect the Level of Assault Charges?

The degree of injury can make a difference. Simply shoving someone is considered an assault, but it won’t necessarily result in bodily injury. However, if you punch someone and break their nose, then there is clear bodily injury and the charge could be enhanced as a result. If you severely injure someone, then the charge could be enhanced to a felony. A charge can also be enhanced for the age of the victim, the use of a weapon, the degree of the assault and the degree of the injury. Many variables can go into a prosecutor’s decision regarding which level of assault to charge a defendant.

Does an Alleged Victim Have to Be Injured in Order to Bring Assault Charges?

No, an alleged victim does not have to show injury for an assault to have occurred. According to the statute, even an attempt to assault someone is considered an assault. Similarly, creating a substantial risk of bodily injury is considered an assault. So, a person could be charged with an assault without having actually injured or even touched another person. People have to be very careful when dealing with situations that could lead to assault.
In Utah, a charge of assault can be based on any of the following:
• an act that causes bodily injury or creates a substantial risk of bodily injury
• an attempt to cause bodily injury, or
• a threat to cause bodily injury.
The act, attempt, or threat must be committed with or accompanied by unlawful (unjustified) violence or force. That the victim caused serious bodily injury to another person is not a defense to a charge of assault. Under Utah’s laws, bodily injury is defined as physical pain, illness, or impairment. Cuts or bruises are usually considered bodily injury.
Substantial Bodily Injury
Assaults that cause substantial bodily injury are punished more severely in Utah. Substantial bodily injury creates or causes lasting physical pain, temporary disfigurement, or temporary loss or impairment of any body part. Cutting someone’s face with a knife and kicking someone in the head are the kinds of injuries that might be considered substantial bodily injury.

Assaults Against Protected Victims

In Utah, assaults against certain victims are punished by longer jail terms. Assaults against pregnant women (if the defendant knows of the pregnancy) are punished more severely. Utah’s laws also punish more severely assaults against certain public officials and employees, including:
• law enforcement officers (including university and school police, district attorneys and attorneys general, sheriffs, park rangers, airport and transit police, and other public employees who prevent and detect crime)
• uniformed members of the military
• members of the National Guard in active service
• public or private school employees and volunteers, and
• health care providers, including emergency medical service personnel such as paramedics who are providing emergency medical services.
In order for the increased punishment to apply, the victim must be acting in the scope of the victim’s official duties or employment, and the defendant must be aware that the victim is an official or employee. Lawmakers expressly stated in the prohibition against assaults on law enforcement officers and military personnel that the law is not intended to limit any individual’s constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. It is also a crime to throw things at a correctional or law enforcement officer in Utah. This crime is committed when:
• a prisoner (a person in jail or another detention facility, including a juvenile facility), or
• a person detained or arrested on suspicion of having committed a crime
• throws any object or substance
• at any correctional officer or law enforcement officer.

Hate Crimes

In Utah, hate crimes are criminal activities, including misdemeanor assault, committed with the intent to intimidate or terrorize the victim in order to infringe on or resulting in an infringement on the victim’s civil rights. These crimes are punished more severely than non-hate crime assaults. In the prohibition against hate crimes, lawmakers made clear that the law is not intended to limit any individual’s right to free speech or any other Constitutional rights.

Different Levels of Assault

In Utah, an assault charge can range from a Misdemeanor B to a 2nd Degree Felony.
A Misdemeanor B charge requires either:
• an attempt, with unlawful force or violence, to do bodily injury to another
• a threat, accompanied by a show of immediate force or violence, to do bodily injury to another;
• an act, committed with unlawful force or violence, that causes bodily injury to another or creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another
Any of these actions can become a Misdemeanor A charge if:
• the person causes substantial bodily injury to another; or
• the victim is pregnant and the person has knowledge of the pregnancy.
These actions can become a 3rd Degree Felony if:
• the person uses a dangerous weapon, or
• other force or means likely to produce death or serious bodily injury.
And, finally, a 3rd Degree Felony Assault can become a 2nd Degree Felony Assault if it actually results in serious bodily injury. Also, there are several more “specific” kinds of assault, such as Assault Against an Officer, Assault of a School Employee, Assault by a Prisoner, etc.
Note: there isn’t a “battery” crime under Utah state statute (except for sexual battery), because the assault statute now includes things that were typically considered “battery.”

Possible Penalties for an Assault Conviction

As stated above, it depends on the level of offense. Here’s a chart showing maximum penalties depending on the level:
• 2nd Degree Felony: 1-15 years in prison, $10,000 fine.
• 3rd Degree Felony: 0-5 years in prison, $5,000 fine.
• Misdemeanor A: 1 year in jail, $2,500 fine.
• Misdemeanor B: 6 months in jail, $1,000 fine.
It is unusual for judges to impose a “maximum” jail/prison sentence, but it is a possibility. More likely is some combination of jail/prison, community service, fines, probation, and possibly anger management classes.

“But What If It Was Self Defense?”

Utah law does provide a “defense” to the crime based on a claim of self-defense, specifically: “A person is justified in threatening or using force against another when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes that force or a threat of force is necessary to defend the person or a third person against another person’s imminent use of unlawful force.” If you have a self-defense claim, a key question will be whether or not your belief that you had to defend yourself was “reasonable.” This will be a matter for the jury (or sometimes the judge) to decide. Some of the relevant factors under the self-defense law are:
• the nature of the danger
• the immediacy of the danger;
• the probability that the unlawful force would result in death or serious bodily injury;
• the other’s prior violent acts or violent propensities; and
• any patterns of abuse or violence in the parties’ relationship.
It’s important to note that the defense may not work if you provoked the altercation or you were the “initial aggressor.” Typically, this is a very fact-specific determination that must be argued and resolved at a trial, so it helps to have a good assault attorney helping you out.

“But What If I Never Even Touched the Other Person?”

Most people think of assault as, at the least, a shove or punch–some sort of physical contact–but that’s not the case. Assault certainly can include a shove or punch, but it also can include “an attempt, with unlawful force or violence, to do bodily injury to another or a threat, accompanied by a show of immediate force or violence, to do bodily injury to another.” So, technically, you could be convicted of assault if you tried to throw a brick at someone’s head, but missed. You could also be convicted if you got up in someone’s face and threatened to beat them up. However, threatening someone over the phone probably would not be an assault crime (although it may be another crime) because it’s hard to make a show of immediate force or violence over the phone.

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It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. Legal problems come to everyone. Whether it’s your son who gets in a car wreck, your uncle who loses his job and needs to file for bankruptcy, your sister’s brother who’s getting divorced, or a grandparent that passes away without a will -all of us have legal issues and questions that arise. So when you have a law question, call Ascent Law for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you!

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

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