Self-defense laws in the US typically justify a person’s use of lethal force in public in situations where lethal force was necessary to prevent imminent death or serious bodily harm to themselves or another person. Traditionally, these laws have been clear that taking human life is not necessary, and is therefore not justified, if the person could have avoided using lethal violence by retreating, or simply stepping away from a confrontation. A person does not have a duty to retreat from a conflict before using force in their home, however (known as the Castle Doctrine).1
Stand your ground laws upend centuries of legal tradition, allowing a person to use deadly force in self-defense in public, even if that force can be safely avoided by retreating or when nonlethal force would suffice.
Utah has enacted a stand your ground law which removes the duty to retreat before using deadly force in self defense when a person is in “a place where [he or she] has lawfully entered or remained.”2
Defendants who make a prima facie claim of self-defense are entitled to a pretrial justification hearing at which the burden of proof shifts to the state to prove by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant’s use or threatened use of force was not justified. If the state does not meet its burden, the charges against the defendant must be dismissed.3
If a court determines after the pretrial justification hearing that the state has met its burden described of proof at the pretrial hearing, the defendant is still entitled to raise the claim of self-defense. Although common law typically requires a defendant who makes the claim to prove it by a preponderance of the evidence, Utah’s law shifts the burden to the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt – a much higher legal standard – that the defendant’s use or threatened use of force was not justified.4
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- American Bar Association, “National Task Force on Stand Your Ground Laws: Report and Recommendations,” (September 2015): 1.
- Utah Code Ann. § 76-2-402.
- Utah Code Ann. § 76-2-309(3).