The Appellate Group

State v. Clara

State v. Clara, 2024 UT 10 (Petersen, J.)

Criminal Procedure

Clara was charged with seven counts of felony discharge of a firearm. The district court dismissed Clara’s criminal case after an evidentiary hearing, ruling that Clara had made a prima facie claim of self-defense under the Pretrial Justification Statute (Utah Code § 76-2-309(3)). The State appealed, arguing that none of the evidence adduced at the hearing showed that Clara had a reasonable belief of imminent threat of harm. The Utah Supreme Court affirmed, holding:

  • The district court did not err in ruling that Clara made a prima facie claim of self-defense at the evidentiary hearing. 
  • Practice tip: For a defendant claiming self-defense to be held criminally liable for recklessly endangering a bystander, the State must specifically raise the issue on appeal—particularly where the defendant was not charged with reckless endangerment. This is true even if the court agrees that the defendant’s actions endangered a bystander.
  • Practice tip: Because neither party objected to the district court’s conclusion that a prima facie showing under the Pretrial Justification Statute was the same showing that would be necessary to get past a motion for directed verdict at trial—that is, enough evidence that a juror acting reasonably could conclude that self-defense applies—the Utah Supreme Court did not address the unpreserved issue of the proper procedure required for a defendant to make a prima facie claim of justification.

Read the full court opinion