The Law of Defense of Others in Utah Criminal Cases

Utah Code Sets forth the Law of Defense of Others

The law in the United States and Utah derives from English common law and under the common law an individual has the right to defend himself against aggressions and violence from others.  That same common law recognized the right to defend the life and property of others.

Utah has taken the common law and set it forth in a statute.  Under Utah Code section 76-2-402(1)(a), 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.

What Does Imminent and Necessary Mean?

Recently the Utah Supreme Court set about to give guidance and what the terms “imminent” and “necessary” mean for purposes.  In State v. Berriel, the Utah Supreme Court looked to dictionaries to find the meanings.

Black’s Law Dictionary defines “imminent danger” as “an immediate, real threat to one’s safety” and as “the danger resulting from an immediate threatened in jury.” Webster’s Dictionary defines “imminent” as “about to occur at any moment” and as “impending.” The imminence requirement distinguishes lawful defensive force from two forms of unlawful force: that which comes too soon and that which comes too late. “A preemptive strike against a feared aggressor is illegal force used too soon; and retaliation against a successful aggressor is illegal force used too late.” Defensive force “is neither a punishment nor an act of law enforcement” but rather “an act of emergency that is temporally and materially confined, with the narrow purpose of warding off the pending threat.” Webster’s Dictionary defines “necessary” as “absolutely required,” “indispensable,” and “unavoidably determined by prior conditions or circumstances.” The necessary requirement distinguishes wanton violence from force that is crucial to averting an unlawful attack. Force is justifiable only if a reasonable belief in the imminence of unlawful harm and in the necessity of defensive force coincide with the defendant’s use of force.

All cases where defense of a third person is presented will fall on whether the acts were necessary and whether the danger was imminent.  Courts are consistent in finding that such a defense is not available where there is only a history of violence and/or a threat of future harm.

Contact our Utah criminal defense lawyers if you have additional questions about self defense and defense of others.  We can be reached anytime at 801.618.1334.

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