SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to amend Utah’s stand-your-ground self-defense law says a person under threat of deadly force has no duty to retreat even if safety could be achieved by fleeing.
Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, said not requiring a flight to safety as a prime option under the law is necessary to provide explicit legal protection for those who justifiably use deadly force in self-defense.
House Bill 129 also specifies that judges and juries would be barred from considering a failure to retreat as being relevant in determining whether a person who stood his or her ground acted reasonably.
The House passed a previous version of the bill in 2017, but it was shelved by a Senate committee. The 2018 bill introduced by Maloy this week is virtually identical.
Utah’s stand-your-ground law has existed for more than 20 years, but Maloy and other supporters told a House committee last year that additional wording is needed to make it clear that acting against a threatening, unlawful aggressor is justified even if a path to safety exists close by.
Mitch Vilos, a Centerville attorney who wrote a book about stand-your-ground laws, said even though the existing law says retreat is not required, judges and juries sometimes ask questions during trials about why a defendant in a stand-your-ground case did not retreat.
The bill drew opposition from democratic House members of Salt Lake City who said university studies in Texas and Georgia have concluded that stand-your-ground laws increase the frequency of deadly encounters in which minority individuals are killed.
“A lot of times a white aggressor is more likely to be found innocent” when the other person is a minority, Rep. Angela Romero said.
Moroni Benally, representing the Utah League of Native American Voters, told lawmakers stand-your-ground laws “essentially grant a person the status of judge, jury and executioner” and tilt against minorities.
“I fear being in the wrong place in the wrong time in this state if the law passes,” Benally said.
The Utah Chiefs of Police Association also urged defeat of the 2017 bill. Spokesman David Spatafore said chiefs worried the bill would “create a climate of escalation ... and embolden some to act with deadly force when they don’t need to.”
At least three shootings with stand-your-ground characteristics have occurred in the past few years in Utah.
In May 2015, according to past coverage, a Pleasant Grove resident shot and killed a man who tried to force his way into the home, and in the same month, an armed bystander in Orem shot a man who was attempting a car-jacking and the aggressor turned and lunged at him.
In Riverdale, a man was ruled justified in fatally shooting his girlfriend in February 2016. The man told police the couple argued and he tried to leave, but she charged him with a knife and he shot her.
Maloy’s new bill has been assigned to the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.
Efforts to contact Maloy were not immediately successful Tuesday.