The Appellate Group

State v. Sorbonne

State v. Sorbonne, 2020 UT App 48 (Hagen, J., majority; Christiansen Forster, J., concurring; Orme, J., dissenting)


After an argument with his father, the defendant drove away from home. The father drove after the defendant and stopped him. The father approached the car, and the defendant pointed a gun at the father and said he was going to kill the father. The State charged the defendant with threatening with a dangerous weapon in a fight. At a bench trial, the defendant argued that he acted in self-defense. The court also admitted several instances of the father’s abuse of others, but it excluded other instances of abuse. The court convicted the defendant. The Court of Appeals affirmed the convictions, holding:

  1. The Court of Appeals does not reach the question of whether pointing a gun at another is a use of deadly force or a threat of force because the district court found that the defendant’s conduct was unreasonable under either standard.
  2. The district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding the father’s prior violent acts because either (1) trial counsel withdrew the question about a prior act before the district court ruled on its admissibility, (2) the specific acts were not admissible under Utah R. Evid. 404(a) (which allows proof of a victim’s propensity for violence to be proved through reputation or opinion) to prove that the father was the first aggressor, or (3) the acts were not admissible to show that the defendant reasonably feared his father because there was no evidence on the record that the defendant knew about those prior acts. 
  3. The defendant has not convinced the Court of Appeals to overrule its prior case that require acts of self-defense to be objectively reasonable. 
  4. Concurrence: Although the concurring judge agrees with the majority opinion, the concurring judge agrees that it is time to reexamine the standard the courts use in assessing the reasonableness of the responsive action exhibited by domestic violence victims or abused children in the self-defense context. It is time for Utah law to recognize that repeated abuse of an intimate partner or child can cause that abused person to reasonably perceive a threat of imminent danger from conduct that may not appear imminently threatening to someone who had not been subjected to a repetitive cycle of violence. 
  5. Dissent: The dissenting judge took Duchesne County’s failure to file a brief to be tantamount to a concession that the defendant’s conviction should be reversed. The defendant’s conviction was the product of multiple errors. 

Read the full court opinion