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Criminal Vs Civil Penalties For Firearms Injuries

Criminal Vs Civil Penalties For Firearms Injuries

A firearm-related injury is defined as a gunshot wound or penetrating injury from a weapon that uses a powder charge to fire a projectile. This definition includes gunshot injuries sustained from handguns, rifles, and shotguns but excludes gunshot wounds from air-powered, gas-powered, BB and pellet guns, as well as non-penetrating injuries associated with firearms (e.g., “pistol whipping”).

Who is at risk for a firearm-related injury?

Rates of fatal and nonfatal firearm injuries are not distributed equally in the population. Age, gender, and race/ethnicity are among some of the factors that distinguish population groups most at risk of a firearm injury.

Gunshot injuries

Gunshot injuries occur when someone is shot by a bullet or other sort of projectile from a firearm. Peace time gunshot injuries occur in a variety of different situations – criminal and terrorist incidents (including shots fired by law enforcement agents), attempted suicides as well as unintended firearm ‘accidents’ (both civilian and amongst the armed forces). Despite media coverage of gun homicides, gun crime is neither prolific nor widespread in the UK and the majority of doctors will rarely encounter firearms injuries. Expertise usually resides with military surgical services or pooled within regional trauma centres.

Mechanism of injury

There are many different types of bullets but the most common type is composed of a lead core with some type of casing. On striking, the projectile element may travel at speeds of up to 1,500 metres/second, dependent on the ammunition and type of gun. The most important factors in causing significant injury or death are their placement and projectile path. The head and torso are the most vulnerable areas, with incapacitation due to CNS disruption or massive organ destruction and hemorrhage. The extent of tissue and organ trauma will depend on terminal ballistics, which are influenced by the type of bullet, its velocity and mass as well as the physical characteristics of the penetrated tissue.

Injury is inflicted in a number of ways:
• Firstly, the projectile crushes structures along its track, similar to other forms of penetrating injury. Temporary cavitations causes shearing and compression, sometimes tearing structures (as with solid abdominal viscera) or stretching inelastic tissue (the brain is particularly susceptible), analogous to blunt trauma. As tissues recoil and hot gases dissipate, soft tissue collapses inwards with the permanent cavity being the resultant defect. Bullets which display greater yaw will be associated with increased temporary cavitations.

• Secondly, kinetic energy transfer occurs during retardation of the bullet and this may cause damage outside the tract.
Factors influencing the efficiency of kinetic energy transfer include:
• Kinetic energy of a body which is proportional to mass and velocity.
• Projectile’s deformation and fragmentation.
• Entrance profile and path travelled through the body.
• Biological characteristics of the transit tissues.
Projectiles tend to be classified as low-velocity (<300 hm/second) or high-velocity (>300 hm/second). Those with higher velocity may be expected, on this basis, to dissipate more energy into surrounding tissue as they slow and cause more tissue damage but this is only a very approximate guide. This ‘kinetic energy dump’ theory is controversial, since high-velocity injuries are frequently less extensive than would be predicted and fragmentation appears to be the most effective mechanism for wounding rather than yawing or other mechanisms for slowing high-velocity rounds quickly.

Secondary contamination.

Interpretation of fatal gunshot wounds in post-mortem is fraught and requires expert attention.


Body armour offers some protection against injury from high-velocity weapons but has considerable limitations. The protection offered is graded I to IV. By and large, I and II will protect against handguns but assault rifles and other high-power weapons require ceramic tiles to give grade III or IV. Like mediaeval armour they are rather heavy and cumbersome.

Gun control

Moderating the injury and death caused by the violent use of guns is a very valid public health issue. The right to bear arms in the USA is enshrined in its constitution and has been ardently and effectively protected by the National Rifle Association, whilst the UK has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world. The massacre of school children and their teachers in Dunblane caused public outcry and subsequent legislation to impose even tougher restrictions on the legal owners of handguns, although there is little evidence that this has saved any lives. Amnesties allowing people to hand in illegal firearms often produce impressive responses but those who hand weapons in are unlikely to use them. During the month-long firearms amnesty in April 2003, over 43,000 guns were surrendered in England and Wales and 3,393 in Scotland.

Although many states divide the crime of murder into first and second degree murder laws, the Beehive State only has murder and aggravated murder. Aggravated murder carries heavier penalties and includes the crime of murder in addition to other elements that make it a more serious crime. The following is a brief summary of Utah murder laws.

Utah Murder Laws

Murder is causing the death of another person under any of the following circumstances:

Intentionally or knowingly

While committing an obviously dangerous act with the intent of causing serious bodily injury Knowingly engaging in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person and under circumstances which evidence a depraved indifference to human life. While engaged in the commission, attempted commission, or immediate flight from the commission or attempted commission of a select felony or as party to any of those felonious crimes. Recklessly causing the death of a peace officer or uniformed military service member while committing or attempting to commit assault against a peace officer or uniformed military service member or while interfering with a peace officer who is making a lawful arrest

Aggravated murder is intentionally or knowingly causing the death of another person under any of the following circumstances:

• While the defendant is in jail or a correctional institution
• The act caused the murder or attempted murder of two or more
• While knowingly creating a great risk of death to two or more
• While committing or attempting to commit aggravated robbery, robbery, rape, rape of a child, object rape, object rape of a child, forcible sodomy, sodomy upon a child, forcible sexual abuse, sexual abuse of a child, aggravated sexual abuse of a child, child abuse, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated arson, arson, aggravated burglary, burglary, aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping, or child kidnapping.

• The murder was a result of child abuse, child kidnapping, rape of a child, object rape of a child, sodomy of a child, sexual abuse, or aggravated sexual abuse of a child and the defendant was acting with reckless indifference to human life and a major participant in the underlying crime.

• While abusing or desecrating a dead human body
• In order to avoid or prevent an arrest or assist in an escape
• For pecuniary gain
• Through a hired third party
• Upon a prior conviction of a particularly violent crime such as aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault, mayhem, kidnapping, rape, forcible sodomy, sodomy of a child, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated arson, aggravated burglary, aggravated robbery, felony discharge of a firearm, or any other crime which would constitute one of the above offenses if convicted in Utah.

• In retaliation against a person for acting as a witness or providing evidence or to disrupt/hinder law enforcement or a governmental function

• The defendant knew/should have known the victim was a public official, a candidate for public office, officer, jailer, prison official, firefighter, judge, court official, or juror and the victim was on duty or the murder was related to the victim’s position
• By means of a destructive device such as a bomb which was planted, hidden, or concealed or a weapon of mass destruction
• While assuming control of an aircraft, train, or other public conveyance through threat or force with the intent of redirecting or exerting control over the conveyance or obtaining something of value for release of the conveyance, passengers, or crew members
• By using a poison or any lethal substance
• The victim was used as a shield or for ransom or held as a hostage
• The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, cruel, or completed in an exceptionally depraved manner
• The defendant dismembered, mutilated, or disfigured the victim’s body in a manner demonstrating the actor’s depravity of mind
• The victim was under 14 years of age (and not an unborn child)

If the defendant had reasonable belief of a legal justification or excuse for his or her conduct under the circumstances, then the crime may be reduced from murder to man-slaughter or from attempted murder to attempted manslaughter. An example is if the defendant was acting under extreme emotion disturbance (a.k.a. heat of passion) at the time of the killing.


Murder is a first-degree felony punishable by life imprisonment and up to $10,000 in fines.
Aggravated murder is punishable by death or life imprisonment. If the death penalty is sought, it is a capital felony. Otherwise, it is a first-degree felony.

When is it a Crime to Fire or Shoot a Gun in Utah

Compared to many other states, Utah has lenient gun laws. However, certain gun-related offenses are still subject to very harsh penalties if a defendant is convicted. One example of such a crime is felony discharge of a firearm, which can lead to many years of prison time in addition to financially devastating criminal fines. A conviction of this offense will also lead to the loss of the defendant’s gun privileges. However, before discussing the criminal penalties, it is vital to explain how this offense is defined under Utah’s criminal laws. As a defendant, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of the actions you are being accused of committing. Felony discharge of a firearm is defined by Utah Code § 76-10-508.1. This statute does not apply to people who fire a gun: For professional or lawful purposes (e.g. practicing at a shooting range, hunting with an appropriate permit, going through a training exercise for police officers). In lawful self-defense. In the lawful defense of other people. Where applicable, the above exceptions may be raised as legal defenses to charges alleging felony discharge of a firearm. The statute also does not apply to people who fire weapons from a highway area or a vehicle, a crime which is charged under a different statute (Utah Code § 76-10-508). Outside of these exceptions, it is generally a felony to fire a gun in Utah, be it a shotgun, handgun, rifle, or other type of firearm.

What Are the Penalties for a Felony Weapons Crime in Utah?

As the name of the offense makes clear, discharging a firearm in Utah is generally a felony unless the person is charged with a lesser offense or has a legal justification for shooting, such as acting in self-defense. A felony is a much more serious type of crime than a misdemeanor, not only in terms of the penalties that can be imposed by Utah’s District Courts, but also in terms of the stigma around felonies. While misdemeanors may not necessarily raise alarms for employers, a felony record often leads to discrimination when seeking jobs, loans, and other opportunities. Additionally, a felony will cause greater loss of rights and privileges, including the loss of your gun privileges. There are three types of felonies in Utah: third degree felonies (which are one step above misdemeanors), second degree felonies, and first degree felonies, which have the most severe penalties. Felony discharge of a firearm can receive any of these classifications. It is a first degree felony when firing the weapon results in “serious bodily injury,” defined as an injury that creates permanent disfigurement, long-term loss of a body part or function, or major risk of death. It is a second degree felony when the shot results in less severe injuries. It is a felony of the third degree when the defendant fires the gun: In any person’s direction, if the defendant knows or has cause to believe that someone’s safety could be jeopardized. In the direction of a person or a “habitable structure” (such as a house, apartment, trailer, boat, or airplane), if the defendant acts with “intent to intimidate or harass.” In the direction of a car, truck, or other vehicle, if the defendant acts with “intent to intimidate or harass.” The criminal penalties for each type of felony are described below.

Utah Third Degree Felony Penalties

Sentence — 3 years minimum, up to 5 years
Fine — Up to $5,000
Utah Second Degree Felony Penalties
Sentence — 3 years minimum, up to 15 years
Fine — Up to $10,000
Utah First Degree Felony Penalties
Sentence — 5 years to life in prison
Fine — Up to $10,000
If you are convicted, you will become what is known as a “restricted person,” meaning you will be prohibited from buying, using, or possessing a firearm.

Free Consultation With A Firearms Lawyer

When you need legal help with a civil or ciriminal firearms matter in Utah, please call Ascent Law LLC 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