In our Utah concealed carry courses, we get a large share of self-defense questions from our students. Needless to say, some can be difficult to answer with a simple yes or no. Sometimes the law uses ambiguous terminology. Other times, there is conflicting case law surrounding a particular subject. On the other hand, some inquiries are pretty straight forward, as the law provides very clear definitions of the circumstances for us.
We recently had someone bring up some valid concerns regarding the use of deadly force in defense of a motor vehicle. The class spent a good bit of time discussing the moral and ethical circumstances involving armed defense of automobiles. But in the end, the law was clear and left little room for debate on the subject.
Under Utah law, as it stands today, you cannot legally seek out a confrontation and shoot someone in “self-defense” for breaking into an unoccupied vehicle. Utah Title 76-2-402 (4)(c) states that burglary of a vehicle is not a “forcible felony” unless the vehicle is occupied. Therefore, vehicle burglary is not a viable defense or justification of deadly force unless the vehicle is occupied.
As a result, Utah’s “stand your ground” laws do not apply to running out of the house at night and shooting a petty car stereo thief. On the other hand, carjacking of an occupied vehicle is a very serious crime that falls clearly under the “forcible felony” umbrella. Carjacking is very likely to be a precursor to kidnapping, rape and/or murder, and is therefore considered a viable justification [in both written and case law] to the lawful use of deadly force.
For these reasons, we generally advise our Utah CFP students to simply call the police, and later, file an insurance claim if they witness someone breaking into their unoccupied vehicle. While it may be extremely tempting to grab your gun and “deal” with the criminal on your own, it is most certainly not worth the risk to both your safety and your good legal standing. And, in the State of Utah, it will most likely lead to criminal charges against you.
Stay safe friends!
Legal Disclaimer: The author of this article is not an attorney. The author is an experienced Utah BCI-certified concealed carry instructor. The information provided comes with no guarantee of legal outcomes. You alone are responsible for knowing the law. If you have any legal questions regarding armed self-defense, it is always best to consult with a qualified, practicing defense attorney who knows Utah gun laws.