Domestic Dispute in Springville Ends with Accidental Discharging of a Firearm within City Limits

A domestic dispute between two couples and a relative ended with an accidental discharging of a firearm within city limits.

Domestic disturbance

Photo by: Marco Verch

Police officers were dispatched to a call that someone had discharged a firearm within city limits and discovered a car speeding away from the scene. After pulling over the vehicle, officers discovered a car overloaded with people, two of which were injured. One was suffering from a head injury while another had a gunshot wound to the foot. Returning to the area in which the firearm had been discharged, officers were able to determine the individual’s head injury and the other person’s bullet hole in his foot to have been the result of a domestic dispute that had become violent. The shooting was accidental, yet the man with the weapon will likely face charges for assault for pistol-whipping the individual with a head injury, brandishing a weapon in a threatening manner, and discharging a firearm within city limits.

State laws

Utah is thought to be a more gun friendly state, yet there are strict laws and ordinances in place regarding where guns are allowed and where they can be discharged. Utah law 76-10-508 warns: “A person may not discharge any kind of dangerous weapon or firearm:

(i) From an automobile or other vehicle;
(ii) From, upon, or across any highway;
(iii) At any road signs placed upon any highways of the state;
(iv) At any communications equipment of property of public utilities . . . ;
(v) At railroad equipment or facilities including any sign or signal;
(vi) Within Utah State Park[s] . . .;
(vii) Without written permission to discharge the dangerous weapon from the owner or person in charge of the property within 600 feet of . . . a house . . . or any structure in which a domestic animal is kept or fed”.

Discharging a firearm within city limits

Photo by: Micki Krimmel

Beyond the above listed areas, Utah law does not specify where in a city firearms are lawful to be discharged. Utah Code 53-5a-102 states “All authority to regulate firearms is reserved to the state except where the Legislature specifically delegates responsibility to local authorities or state entities.” Many counties or cities have their own ordinances pertaining to discharging a firearm within city limits. The city of Springville where the domestic dispute resulting in accidental discharging of a firearm was reported states in statute 8-3-102 that “except as permitted by subsection (2) [regarding hunting in rural areas during designated seasons], it shall be unlawful for any person within the limits of the City to discharge any rifle, gun, pistol, air gun, bean shooter, flipper, sling shot, or any other instrument which expels a projectile, except in self-defense, or, in the case of target shooting, upon issuance of a permit by the Police Department. “

Self-defense or Castle Doctrine

There are some occurrences when discharging a firearm within city limits would not result in criminal charges. Some such instances include self-defense cases when a person is found to be justified in using a weapon to protect themselves. Additionally, while state and many city laws prohibit firearm use near a residence, Utah homeowners are allowed to defend their home from dangerous intruders. This freedom to protect a home and its residents is known as Castle Doctrine.

Check with your local area

Besides in instances of self-defense or Castle Doctrine, all Utah residents should be aware that brandishing a weapon during an altercation or discharging a firearm in city limits will likely be frowned upon by law enforcement. Others who may want to engage in innocent target shooting or “air-soft wars” may want to check with their local area ordinances prior to engaging in any such activity that could result in criminal charges.

Six Arrested in West Valley Gang-Related Shooting

Six individuals were arrested in West Valley City, Utah for what is being considered a gang-related shooting that has left a teenager paralyzed from the waist down.

Minors and adults involved

Gang-Related Shooting Investigation

Photo by: Christ Yarzab

The six individuals arrested were either directly involved or involved in incidents that led up to the shooting. The suspects included two teens who were 15 and 16 years old as well as four adults who were all barely legal at only 18 to 19 years old. The gang-related shooting took place after a meet up between two gangs in West Valley City where the use of a firearm was allegedly prearranged. During the incident, multiple shots were fired and a 16 year old victim was rushed to the hospital where it was determined a bullet had struck his spine, paralyzing him from the waist down.

Enhanced penalties for gang-related shooting

When a crime such as a gang-related shooting can be linked to a “criminal street gang” or even a small group of people, the charges can be increased or enhanced. Utah Code 76-3-203.1 states “the enhanced penalty for a:

(a) class B misdemeanor is a class A misdemeanor;

(b) class A misdemeanor is a third degree felony;

(c) third degree felony is a second degree felony;

(d) second degree felony is a first degree felony; “

According to the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office, those arrested in the gang-related shooting incident were booked under charges including felony discharge of a firearm. Under normal criminal circumstances, discharge of a firearm which results in serious bodily injury of a person is already a first degree felony. According to the above code, the enhanced penalty for a “first degree felony is an indeterminate prison term of not less than five years in addition to the statutory minimum prison term for the offense, and which may be for life.”

“Criminal Street Gang”

Photo by: Alessandro Galantucci

Photo by: Alessandro Galantucci

Utah Code 76-9-802 defines a criminal street gang as “an organization, association in fact, or group of three or more persons, whether operated formally or informally:

(a) that is currently in operation;

(b) that has as one of its primary activities the commission of one or more predicate gang crimes;

(c) that has, as a group, an identifying name or identifying sign or symbol, or both; and

(d) whose members, acting individually or in concert with other members, engage in or have engaged in a pattern of criminal gang activity.

Small group of associates

Utah code 76-3-203.1 augments that enhanced penalties can result for those known to be in criminal street gangs, but also “in concert with two or more persons” which means “the defendant was aided or encouraged by at least two other persons in committing the offense and was aware of this aid or encouragement; and

(ii) each of the other persons:

(A) was physically present; or

(B) participated as a party to any offense listed in Subsection (5).”

(c) “In concert with two or more persons” means, regarding intent:

(i) other persons participating as parties need not have the intent to engage in the same offense or degree of offense as the defendant; and

(ii) a minor is a party if the minor’s actions would cause the minor to be a party if the minor were an adult.”

Attorney needed

Credit photo: Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals

Credit photo: Shane T. McCoy / US Marshals

The majority of people are aware of the safety and criminal risks associated with gang involvement, however they may not understand that the penalties for many crimes are increased solely on the fact that there are ties to criminal street gangs. Their surprise is even greater for those facing enhanced charges merely for working with two or more people to commit the crime. Although facing criminal charges without counsel is never recommended, it is particularly important to be represented by a qualified criminal defense attorney if facing enhanced charges due gang-relations or group criminal events.