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Utah Criminal Code 76-5-204

Utah Criminal Code 76-5-204

Utah Criminal Code 76-5-204: Death Of Other Than Intended Victim No Defense
In any prosecution for criminal homicide, evidence that the actor caused the death of a person other than the intended victim shall not constitute a defense for any purpose to criminal homicide.
The law recognizes a person’s right to protect themselves when they are being physically attacked or are faced with a threat of physical violence. The extent to which it is permissible to use violence in self-defense depends on the circumstances and the extent of the threat faced. A person carries out an offence in self-defense if the person believes their actions are necessary
• To defend themselves or another person;
• To prevent or end the unlawful deprivation of liberty;
• To protect property;
• To prevent criminal trespass to land or premises

And the conduct is a reasonable response to the circumstances as the person perceives them. A person faced with a threat and acting in the heat of the moment is not expected to weigh the exact measure of force that is appropriate to use in self-defense. Rather, the law allows for a person to use a degree of force that is proportionate to the threat being faced as the person perceives it at the time. In other words, the response is to be assessed based on the circumstances as they appeared at the time of the act and not with the benefit of hindsight. Once the defense of self-defense is raised, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was not acting in self-defense. It is not up to the defense to prove that the accused was acting in self-defense. If the possibility that the offence was committed in self-defense cannot be excluded, the accused must be found not guilty. For self-defense to be raised there must be sufficient evidence to support a reasonable doubt in the mind of the judge or jury that the prosecution has excluded self-defense. A defendant raising self-defense does not have to give evidence in their defense but the evidence must be such that self-defense is fairly raised. If a defendant does not raise self-defense, the judge can still leave the question of self-defense to the jury to determine if it is appropriate in the circumstances.

Defense of property
If a person kills another person intentionally or recklessly in the defense of property only, the defense of self-defense is not available (Section 420).
Self-Defense And Murder
When a person is charged with murder, a conviction for manslaughter is open as an alternative. If a person charged with murder runs the defense of self-defense and the jury finds that the prosecution has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused was acting in self-defense, the accused may be found not guilty of murder and not guilty of manslaughter. However, if the prosecution proves beyond a reasonable doubt that what the accused did was not a reasonable response in the circumstances (for example, because the response was excessive) then the accused can be found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. If the accused was voluntarily intoxicated at the time the offence occurred, their intoxication must be taken into account in assessing whether they believed the conduct was necessary in response to the circumstances as they perceived them. However, intoxication is not to be taken into account in determining whether the accused’s response to the threat was reasonable.
Common Criminal Defenses
When a defendant goes on trial for allegedly committing a crime, a prosecutor must establish that the defendant is guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. At the same time, the criminal defendant is entitled to present a defense and may do so through a variety of means. The defendant may attempt to poke holes in the prosecutor’s case, argue that another individual committed the crime, or argue that he or she did commit the crime but had a legal and reasonable defense for doing so. There are numerous criminal defenses available that may allow a defendant to avoid punishment for his or her actions. One category of defenses available to a criminal defendant argue that the defendant cannot be found guilty for the crime because he or she did not understand what he or she was doing or that his or her actions were wrong. At its most severe, this includes the defense of insanity. The defense of insanity requires the defendant to prove, depending on the state in which the case is tried, that either he or she had a mental disorder that rendered him or her incapable of understanding right from wrong, or that it prevented him or her from controlling his or her actions and resisting violent impulses. In some states, the defense of insanity will allow a defendant to avoid prison but will require that the defendant be held in a psychiatric facility for treatment.

Similarly, the defense of intoxication also relies on the theory that the defendant cannot meet all of the elements of the crime because he or she did not understand what he or she was doing. If a defendant is involuntarily intoxicated, this can be a defense to both general and specific intent crimes under the theory that the intoxication prevents the defendant from understanding right and wrong. Voluntary intoxication is also a defense, but only to specific intent crimes when the defendant argues that his or her intoxication prevented him or her from forming the intent necessary for the crime. Finally, a criminal defendant may be able to argue mistake of law/mistake of fact. Under this defense, the defendant made a fundamental mistake that negates an element of the crime. For instance, a defendant charged with larceny may argue that he mistakenly believed that the victim had given him the property. Similarly, mistake of law applies when a criminal defendant believed his or her actions were lawful. This defense applies in only very limited circumstances.
Another category of defenses applies when the defendant committed the crime but argues that he or she was justified in doing so. The most commonly recognized of these defenses are self-defense and defense of others. A defendant may argue, for instance, that he did shoot an intruder but did so in self-defense because the intruder was threatening him with a knife. Similarly, under a defense of duress, the criminal defendant argues that he or she only committed the crime because he or she was forced to do so by someone else. For example, a criminal defendant may argue that a co-defendant told him that if he didn’t commit a burglary, the co-defendant would kill him. Finally, under a necessity defense, the criminal defendant may argue that he or she committed the crime in order to prevent a more significant harm. For instance, the defendant may contend that it was necessary for him to steal a car in order to chase down another individual who was threatening to use an explosive device.
Finally, a smaller set of defenses may be used to argue that although it appears there was a crime, the defendant did not actually commit a criminal act. First, the defendant may argue that no crime occurred because of the defense of consent. For instance, the defendant may argue that although sexual intercourse occurred, it was not rape because there was consent. Likewise, he may argue that there was no assault because the victim consented to the harm. Second, a criminal defendant can assert the defense of abandonment/withdrawal if he or she initially intended to commit or participate in a crime but later had a change of heart and withdrew from participation. Third, the defendant may argue entrapment. Entrapment occurs when the government induces an individual to commit the crime and then attempts to punish the person for it. The defendant may argue that no crime would have occurred but for the government’s inducement, and he or she should therefore not be held responsible.

Assault and Battery
Assault and battery are two violent crimes that involve threatening harm or causing actual harm to another person. In some states, assault and battery remain two separate crimes, while others have slowly merged the two into one general crime. Additionally, many states apply a more serious charge of aggravated assault or battery when severe injury occurs or the act is committed with a deadly weapon.
Assault is typically defined as an intentional act that puts another individual in apprehension of immediate harm. Assault thus criminalizes the threat of harm itself, rather than requiring that actual harm has occurred. For this reason, it is sometimes also known as “attempted battery.” Since assault is an intentional act, it cannot be committed by accident. This means that a perpetrator must have intended to cause fear in another person, or that he or she acted in a way that was knowingly dangerous, even if a specific individual was not targeted. Assault does not require that the victim fear being subjected to severe bodily harm or death. Any reasonable fear is sufficient. Assault also requires that an act be taken in furtherance of the threat of harm. This could be any variety of acts, including approaching someone with raised fists, scaring someone with a weapon, or attempting to push an individual into a crowded street. However, some sort of act is required. For example, if a man has a reputation for being a mean and violent drunk and is walking down the street when he approaches a woman, it is not an assault because she is scared merely by his reputation. Instead, he must take some act directed at her for an assault to occur. Additionally, words are insufficient. Simply stating a threat is not enough to create an assault unless the words are accompanied by an additional action that creates a fear of harm.
Battery is, in many ways, the completion of an assault. Battery is defined as an intentional offensive or harmful touching of another person that is done without his or her consent. Since an assault is the threatening of harm, and a battery is the actual act of harm, the two crimes are often charged together. As with assault, battery requires that the perpetrator intended to commit the act. Thus, for instance, if a man accidentally hits a shopper with his grocery cart while in the supermarket, this would probably not be a battery. If, however, the man was acting with criminal recklessness or negligence, this might be sufficient. The act of battery does not require that the victim is severely injured or traumatized. Any type of touching that the victim considers harmful or offensive can be sufficient. For example, if a woman pours a mug of hot water on someone else, this could be a battery. To go even further, a classic case of a battery that does not result in pain or injury is when the perpetrator spits on the victim. However, a defendant will not be held liable for contact that is deemed offensive only because the victim is abnormally sensitive. The standard of “offensiveness” is determined from the perspective of an ordinary individual. When the conduct of a defendant is particularly egregious, he or she may be charged with the elevated crime of aggravated assault or battery. This can vary by state, but it is generally meant to criminalize conduct that society finds particularly offensive. Thus, for instance, aggravated assault may apply to circumstances when a deadly weapon, such as a gun, is used, or when the victim is particularly vulnerable, such as a pregnant woman or elderly individual. In some states, if the harm done to the victim is particularly severe and causes serious and lasting injury, the assault or battery will be charged as aggravated. If the perpetrator’s actions could have caused death, the defendant may even face a charge of attempted murder or manslaughter.

Although someone may kill someone in self defense, this type of killing is not considered a crime like manslaughter or murder is. The American justice system recognizes the right of someone to protect himself or herself from harm. In order for a self defense to apply, the defendant must have believed that he or she was in imminent danger of harm and that the use and degree of force that he or she used was reasonably necessary to protect his or her safety or that of a third person. Different states have different guidelines regarding the application of self defense. For example, some states impose a duty to retreat on the defendant in which he or she must first attempt to get away from the source of danger before exerting force in order to assert this defense. Other states only permit someone not to retreat if he or she was in his or her own home at the time of the attack. Other factors may be relevant in the application of this defense, such as who the initial aggressor, who escalated a dispute was and whether the defendant was engaged in criminal activity at the time that he or she asserts the defense. Another possibility is that someone may commit an accidental killing. If his or her behavior did not rise to a criminal level, he or she cannot be held criminally responsible. However, there may still be civil liability if the conduct was negligent but not criminally negligent. In this case, a person may be sued for causing the death of someone else. As a general rule, self-defense only justifies the use of force when it is used in response to an immediate threat. The threat can be verbal, as long as it puts the intended victim in an immediate fear of physical harm. Offensive words without an accompanying threat of immediate physical harm, however, do not justify the use of force in self-defense. Moreover, the use of force in self-defense generally loses justification once the threat has ended. For example, if an aggressor assaults a victim but then ends the assault and indicates that there is no longer any threat of violence, then the threat of danger has ended. Any use of force by the victim against the assailant at that point would be considered retaliatory and not self-defense. Sometimes self-defense is justified even if the perceived aggressor didn’t actually mean the perceived victim any harm. What matters in these situations is whether a reasonable person in the same situation would have perceived an immediate threat of physical harm. The concept of the reasonable person is a legal conceit that is subject to differing interpretations in practice, but it is the legal system’s best tool to determine whether a person’s perception of imminent danger justified the use of protective force.
Legal Assistance
A person who is facing serious criminal charges involving murder or manslaughter may choose to contact a criminal defense lawyer for assistance. He or she can explain the defendant’s rights and the differences in murder, manslaughter and self-defense killings in the jurisdiction where the criminal charges are pending. He or she can carefully analyze the circumstances of the case to determine whether a mitigating argument may be viable. He or she can also help you.

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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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