ST. GEORGE — A new bill unveiled this month during the 2017 general session of the Utah Legislature would clarify that a person in Utah is lawfully allowed to defend themselves if attacked and that they are not legally required to retreat from an aggressor even if there is a safe place to retreat to.
Under current Utah law, a person is not required to run away from a confrontation in which defensive force is justified to stop a threat. However, in a trial setting, prosecutors can argue that the use of force was unreasonable if the person could have retreated to safety.
The proposed Duty to Retreat Amendments, designated as HB 259 and sponsored by Rep. A. Cory Maloy, if passed, creates provisions that would disallow a prosecutor or judge implying or considering whether the force used by a person to defend themselves against an aggressor was reasonable or that a safer alternative may have been available if the victim would have run away.
Simply put, Maloy’s bill specifies that a person need not run away from an attacker if safety can be reached and it restricts trial questioning.
Currently, the requirement of reasonableness in the use of force means that the level of force a person may use depends upon the specific circumstances.
A major factor in determining whether the use of force will be considered reasonable is the specific threat a person is facing. A person facing an assailant with a gun would likely be entitled to use more force than a person who’s facing an unarmed assailant.
In July 2014, it was speculated that a 70-year-old man in Southern Utah may have thought he was defending his neighbor’s home when he was shot and killed in an act of self-defense.
Leeds resident Stephen Aizenberg, 70, reportedly approached his neighbor’s home armed with a handgun, pointing the weapon at the home’s occupants and their visitors – a man and several women, according to a report filed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
When Aizenberg continued approaching with his weapon drawn, one of the visitors, a retired law enforcement officer not from Southern Utah, drew a gun he was carrying and fatally shot Aizenberg.
The reason Aizenberg approached his neighbor’s home with a drawn weapon remains unknown to investigators. The only possible motive the Washington County Attorney’s Office has speculatively deduced from the evidence is that Aizenberg possibly didn’t recognize his neighbor’s visitors and, therefore, thought they were intruders and was investigating the situation when the shooting occurred.
In October 2014, the Washington County Attorney’s Office announced its decision not to bring charges in the fatal shooting based on evidence that the man who had committed the shooting had acted in self-defense.
In a July 2009 shooting of a neighborhood watchman in Bluffdale, Reginald Campos, 48, shot David Serbeck, 42, paralyzing him below the waist. The late-night confrontation in the middle of the street of their neighborhood allegedly ensued because Campos believed Serbeck was following his frightened 16-year-old daughter.
Serbeck alleged he was simply doing a neighborhood watch patrol.
Campos was initially found guilty of attempted murder and aggravated assault and sentenced to up to five years in prison. However, his attempted murder conviction was overturned by the Utah Court of Appeals in 2013. Campos worked out a plea deal with prosecutors, was recharged with discharge of a firearm and granted parole in 2014.
After the Campos trial was over, Serbeck was convicted in 2012 on three counts of unlawful sex with a minor – a 17-year-old neighbor girl.
Utah first adopted stand your ground laws in 1994. The law originated in a bill, then designated as HB 13, sponsored by Rep. Steve Barth, D-Salt Lake City, and was reportedly drafted with the intent to help domestic violence victims protect themselves.
Maloy’s proposed Duty to Retreat Amendments bill was introduced to the House of Representatives Thursday and immediately transitioned to the House Rules Committee. Wednesday, the bill transferred to the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee for consideration.
- Read the bill: 2017 HB 259 – Duty to Retreat Amendments
- Contact legislators
- Bill sponsor: Rep. A. Cory Maloy
- Southern Utah Sens. Ralph Okerlund, Don Ipson, Evan Vickers and David Hinkins | Listing of all senators.
- Southern Utah Reps. Walt Brooks, Merrill Nelson, Brad Last, John Westwood, Mike Noel, V. Lowry Snow and Jon Stanard | Listing of all members of the House of Representatives
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