Fact check by KSL investigators from the legal debate about the new self-defense law in Utah

Utah MP Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, voted against HB227. Now he is calling on the legislature to rethink the new self-defense law, based on the findings of the public prosecutor’s office and a KSL investigation. (Tanner Siegworth, KSL-TV)

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY – Based on prosecutor’s findings and a KSL investigation, a Utah lawmaker urges lawmakers to reconsider HB227, a new self-defense law that went into effect in May.

“I think we should look at this again because it wasn’t well thought out from the start,” said Rep. Brian King, Salt Lake City, D. King adds his voice to the voice of some prosecutors and crime victims who told KSL investigators that the new law had unintended consequences.

HB227 shifts the burden of proof of self-defense claims during a pre-trial justification hearing to prosecutors. If the prosecution cannot prove that a person’s use of force was unjustified, the case will be dropped before it ever reaches a jury.

The new law accurately reflects a unique piece of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law and has already resulted in Juab County’s murder charges being dismissed.

“I’m concerned that this increases the likelihood of vigilante thinking and vigilante behavior,” said King, one of 17 state officials who voted against HB227 in early 2021.

Critics also say the law incentivizes false self-defense claims and causes further delays in an already overloaded judicial system.

Rep. Brian King, Salt Lake City, D, speaks with KSL investigator Danielle Rivera.  King has voted against HB227 and is calling on lawmakers to reconsider it.Rep. Brian King, Salt Lake City, D, speaks with KSL investigator Danielle Rivera. King has voted against HB227 and is calling on lawmakers to reconsider it. (Photo: Tanner Siegworth, KSL-TV)

But HB227 has been suggested as a way to save people acting in self-defense from the cost of self-defense in court.

“Currently, those who use their firearms for self-defense are facing criminal prosecution and often costly jury trials,” said Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, during a debate in the Utah House of Representatives in February.

Lisonbee sponsored the bill and the debate in the Chamber took less than 15 minutes. “Have the courts been consulted on this?” Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, asked during the debate.

“Yes, they did,” replied Lisonbee. “And you have contributed to the development of this language and the accompanying resolution HJR7.”

In an interview with KSL, Lisonbee also referred several times to the involvement of the courts.

Rep Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, sponsored HB227.Rep Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, sponsored HB227. (Photo: John Wilson, KSL-TV)

“We worked with the courts on this bill to make sure it was the right process,” she said.

When asked directly whether the courts weighed the merits of the bill, Lisonbee stated, “The courts, through their emergency team at the Utah Supreme Court level, were actually able to make a motion in their rule that mirrors the motion that was made in the bill. So they worked with us on it directly. “

The KSL investigators followed the legislative connection to the courts.

In an email statement, Michael Drechsel said it was true that the courts helped draft legal proceedings that accompany the bill and made linguistic suggestions, but confirmed that the courts did not weigh the merits of the new law .

“In general, the main policy issues in HB227 have not been the subject of court opinion,” he wrote. “Ultimately, the courts did not take a position on the legislation.”

In order to provide her co-legislators with the reason for the need for the bill, Lisonbee referred to a Utah County case where a man encountered an apparent domestic violence situation and shot and killed the alleged assailant – the details of the case coincide with a case in the Year 2019 in Provo.

“This man defended another person and had been involved in a protracted legal process for over a year for being so brave and noble in defense of others,” she said. “I urge my colleagues to support this law.” But the man who fired his gun in the Provo case was never charged – a decision prosecutors made six months later after examining the facts of the case.

“He had to hire a lawyer all the time and pay attorney’s fees before the case was dismissed,” Lisonbee said in an interview with KSL when asked why she was referring to the case.

KSL investigators indicated that HB227 would not have had any influence on his case as the man was never charged.

“At that point this case was still ongoing,” she said, referring to the date of the House debate on HB227.

But the decision was announced and widely reported in December 2019, more than a year earlier.

“There can be some unintended consequences that are material,” King said during the debate on the bill, explaining why he would be voting against it.

In a recent interview, King said it was hugely important that lawmakers’ statements about the legislative proposals they were promoting are accurate.

“Our credibility as legislators is at stake and it should be at stake,” he said. “When you are talking about literally hundreds of bills ahead of us in a 45-day meeting, you have to rely on your colleagues.”

King did not say whether he would propose changes to the law, but said what he is learning about how it works in practice supports his reasons for voting against passing the bill.

“I’m sad to see that these concerns have been confirmed to some extent,” said King. “And that’s why I think we need to rethink that.” Lisonbee did not respond to a request for comment on this report.


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