Criminal trials in Utah are complex. Always hire the services of an experienced Magna Utah criminal defense lawyer to represent you in a criminal trial.
When someone is put on trial for a crime, the prosecution presents its side of the case first. During the presentation of the prosecution’s case, the defendant has a chance to poke holes in the prosecution’s case by cross- examining the prosecution’s witnesses. Then the defendant has the opportunity to present her own side of the story. In short, the prosecution is saying, “You did it.” The defendant can respond in one of two ways: By saying “No” or by saying “Yes, but.”
The defendant’s “No” in response to the prosecution case essentially means that the defendant didn’t commit the crime charged. “Yes, but” responses are different. Instead of rebutting the prosecution’s claims, the defense introduces some new factor that exonerates the defendant. Criminal law has identified two types of “Yes, but” defenses, or reasons why we might not want to punish someone who has satisfied the elements of an offense: justifications and excuses.
Criminal law defines an act as criminal because it is wrong, both in terms of moral fault and social harm. But sometimes committing a crime doesn’t seem wrong; because of special circumstances, doing something that otherwise would be criminal is an act that we want to tolerate or even encourage. When this occurs, we say that the act is justified and the defendant is not guilty of a crime. Usually justifications involve a choice among evils, and when someone chooses the lesser of two evils, she should not be punished for doing so. Justifications include self-defense, acting under official authority, and other circumstances that involve a choice of evils.
At other times a criminal act is not justified, but there is still something about the case that makes us uneasy about imposing criminal liability. What the offender did was not the right thing to do, but some special circumstances suggest that she couldn’t be expected to do any better. In those circumstances the offender is excused. Excuses include mental disorders, intoxication, and duress.
If we are going to require that someone acting in self-defense act like a reasonable person, what characteristics does the reasonable person have? Ordinarily we take into account some of the actor’s physical conditions but not his mental state. A weak person reasonably may believe that he has to use deadly force to repel the attack of a much stronger person, but a fearful person cannot claim self-defense in every unpleasant encounter. The test for self-defense is that the defendant believe the use of defensive force is necessary in the face of an attack and, in most jurisdictions, that the defendant’s belief is reasonable. Self-defense must also be used in the face of an imminent attack or threat. The usual requirement that harm be imminent to justify self-defense protects both the aggressor and the victim; the rule encourages the victim to escape if she can so that neither she nor the aggressor is unnecessarily killed. If she can escape, she should. She is morally blameless only where she cannot escape and kills in imminently necessary self-defense.
There are two other situations in which someone might be justified in committing a crime. One is quite common. If a police officer tackles a fleeing bank robber, has he committed an assault? Of course not. The exercise of government authority makes lawful what otherwise would be a criminal act. Suppose the police officer can’t reach the robber and instead yells, “Stop that man.” If a private citizen nearby tackles the robber, has she committed an assault? Again, no. Aiding a police officer is to be encouraged and is certainly not wrongful, so she has a defense, too. What if the private citizen acts on her own when no police officer is present? Here the citizen is more at risk; in some jurisdictions even a reasonable belief will not protect her if the person she assaults has not in fact committed a crime. What if the fleeing person is not really a bank robber, but rather was a bank customer, leaving with a sack of money he had withdrawn, who was frightened by the robbery and ran away? The police officer would be protected by his reasonable belief that the person he tackled was a robber, but in some jurisdictions the private citizen might not. Finally, can the police officer shoot the fleeing robber? The robber apparently has committed a serious crime, but does it justify the use of deadly force? Traditionally the officer was justified in using deadly force against any fleeing felon, but recently the defense has been restricted. If the criminal uses deadly force against a police officer, the officer can respond in kind. If the criminal flees, though, the officer can only use deadly force if she reasonably believes it to be necessary to arrest a person who threatens life or serious injury. Thus, the officer can shoot an armed bank robber but not a thief who has tricked the bank teller into giving him money.
The second situation involving justification occurs much less frequently but pushes our understanding of criminal law to the limit. Self-defense and the exercise of law enforcement authority are justified because the actor is choosing the lesser of two evils. It’s not good to kill someone who attacks you, but it is better than being killed yourself.
The insanity defense has been part of the criminal law for centuries, and the classic hypotheticals seem to make sense. A man acting under an insane delusion strangles his wife, all the time thinking that he is squeezing a lemon. How can someone who did not even understand the physical nature of his act be held criminally responsible for it? The defendant’s mental health is relevant for several purposes. First, someone who is mentally ill, and is found to present a serious danger of causing injury to himself or other people can be involuntarily confined to a mental institution through a noncriminal process known as civil commitment. A person who has been civilly committed has not been found guilty of a criminal act (indeed, the mental illness may involve noncriminal behavior) and can be held only as long as his mental illness presents a continuing danger.
Second, a criminal defendant who is mentally ill at the time of trial may be found incompetent to stand trial. Here the issue of mental illness is unrelated to the crime itself. Instead, the question is whether the defendant is able to understand the charges against her and to participate in her defense. It would deprive a defendant of the constitutional right of due process of law to try her when she could not understand what was happening or aid her attorney in presenting a defense. When someone has been found incompetent to stand trial, the state must determine whether she probably will become competent, and either provide treatment or begin civil commitment proceedings.
Third, at the other end of the process, a defendant convicted of a capital crime may not be executed if he is mentally incompetent. Courts have always refused to allow the execution of a person who cannot understand that he has been convicted of a crime and sentenced to death, and the Supreme Court has held that it would violate the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment to execute an insane person.
The insanity defense distinguishes between those people who are responsible for their acts and those who are not. In a well-worn phrase, the insanity defense distinguishes “the mad from the bad, the sick from the wicked.” Someone who commits an act that otherwise would be criminal because he is psychologically ill does not deserve the condemnation or punishment that criminal law usually metes out. The offender may need to be treated or even confined if no treatment is available, but as a sick person, not as a criminal.
Criminal law also aims to deter crime and incapacitate offenders. The mentally ill person who meets the legal definition of insanity typically does not engage in a calculation of the consequences of his acts that can be deterred, so the threat of a criminal sanction is useless. And because the result of a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity is to commit the offender for treatment as long as he presents a danger, the offender is incapacitated and prevented from committing another crime to the extent it is necessary to do so.
Although medical testimony at trial is necessary to establish insanity, insanity is a legal concept, not a medical one. The issue of insanity is whether, according to the purposes and principles of criminal law, the defendant had a mental state that is appropriate to hold him criminally responsible for his acts. In most cases of the insanity defense, the defendant had the mental state defined in the offense, but his mental state was so clouded as well that we think it unwise to hold him criminally responsible anyway. Never invoke the insanity defense without the assistance of an experienced Magna Utah criminal defense lawyer.
Where someone commits a crime only because they reasonably believe that doing so is the only way to avoid imminent death or serious bodily injury, they have an excuse and are not guilty of the crime. The law recognizes that a person may be forced to choose between two evils and it does not punish someone if they choose the lesser of the two evils. An actor is excused if he does something that is wrong, but we can understand the reasons for doing so and forgive him for it; it wasn’t good that the driver aided the bank robbers, but we would be hard pressed to say he should have sacrificed his life instead. He only participated in the robbery because the robbers said they would kill him if he didn’t, a threat they were apparently ready, willing, and able to carry out. It would do no good to punish his action because we couldn’t deter anyone from acting this way; any person would go along with the robbery even if it meant criminal punishment, because the possibility of punishment is not as bad as the imminent threat of being killed. And what he did was wrong but not too wrong; it would be a different case if the driver, under duress, had shot someone during the course of the robbery.
Inchoate crimes refer to the criminal acts that are incomplete or imperfect. Criminal law punishes three inchoate crimes: attempt, solicitation, and conspiracy.
Criminal law punishes inchoate offenses for two simple reasons. First, people who engage in attempts, solicitations, or conspiracies are about as dangerous as those who actually commit the crimes. The hit men who don’t shoot accurately, the bosses who plan the hit, and the intermediaries who hire the hit men all are about as culpable as a hit man who actually succeeds. “About” as culpable is a necessary qualification, because there is much debate about whether someone who commits an inchoate offense should be punished as severely as someone who finishes the job. On the one hand, they have the same degree of moral culpability; a gunman who shoots but has bad aim is morally as responsible as one with better aim. On the other hand, they have not caused the same degree of harm, and the law usually doesn’t punish people just for the level of their intent without resulting harm. There is also a practical concern. When a gunman is faced with the same degree of punishment for attempted murder as for murder, if he misses on his first shot he may as well finish the job.
Second, establishing inchoate crimes is necessary for law enforcement. A person has not satisfied the elements of an offense, such as murder or prostitution, but they have done something else that suggests that they ought to be punished. An attempt in criminal law is defined much like an attempt in any other sense of the word: someone attempts something when they try to accomplish it. Therefore, the mental element of an attempted crime is the intent to commit the crime. The complications arise with the act element. Most crimes involve a chain of events, beginning with formulating the intention to commit the crime through getting ready for it to committing the act itself.
If you have been charged with a crime, an experienced Magna Utah criminal defense lawyer is the first person you should turn to. The lawyer can develop a successful defense strategy based on the facts of your case.
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When you’ve been charged with a crime, whether it is a sex crime, drug crime, theft crime, assault, battery or some of criminal act, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.
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|Etymology: Kennecott Copper’s Magna Mill;
Latin word meaning “great” or “superior”
|First Settled (as Pleasant Green)||1868|
|Given Township Status||2001|
|Incorporated as a Metro Township||2017|
|• Municipal Administrator||Greg Shulz|
|• Total||37.48 sq mi (97.07 km2)|
|• Land||15.11 sq mi (39.13 km2)|
|• Water||22.37 sq mi (57.94 km2)|
||4,278 ft (1,304 m)|
| • Estimate
|• Density||1,783.88/sq mi (688.78/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC-7 (Mountain (MST))|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC-6 (MDT)|
|Area code(s)||385, 801|
|GNIS feature ID||1430037|
Magna (/ˈmæɡnə/ MAG-nə) is a metro township in Salt Lake County, Utah, United States. The current population of the township stands at 27,029 according to the 2020 census, a moderate increase over 22,770 in 2000.