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Expert breaks down how far someone can legally go to protect their Utah property

Feb 27, 2024, 9:40 PM | Updated: Feb 28, 2024, 11:43 am

BRIGHTON — A tense interaction between a snowboarder and a Brighton man has started conversation on Utah’s trespassing laws, and now an expert is weighing in.

In the now viral video, the rider is confronted by the property owner, who’s holding a gun. Snowboarder Loren Richardson said he didn’t see any warning signs before he found himself on this Brighton man’s driveway Saturday.

He said he discovered he’s not the only one who’s had this encounter. Richardson said he posted the video to warn others.

“Someone’s going to die and we need to stop that,” Richardson.

 

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He said he thought he was taking a run that led straight onto to a neighborhood road where his Airbnb was located. Richardson said he only saw trees and houses, no signs stating private property or stay out.

“To be guilty of trespassing, you either have to knowingly trespass on somebody’s property or you have to go into somebody’s property in a way where you’re passing some kind of posting or other type of fencing where a person would understand that they were going on to somebody’s private property and it was posted that they shouldn’t do so,” said Steve Burton, director of the Utah Defense Attorney Association.

Burton said Utahns are allowed to defend their property using force if someone has come onto their property with the intent to harm you or someone else.

Snowboarder confronted by property owner with gun near Brighton Ski Resort

“If the other person has done something that makes you believe that you need to defend your property, then you can use force, however, that’s usually limited to nonlethal force,” Burton said.

Burton pointed out the video doesn’t show the shotgun pointed at Richardson, but the rider told KSL he remembered the moment he saw it aimed at him.

“It could be a difficult case to prove if there’s a discrepancy about whether or not the gun’s directly pointed at somebody or whether it was just being held,” Burton said.

He said it’s not illegal to hold a gun in Utah, but it depends on if you’re using it in a threatening or unreasonable way.

“Utah’s brandishing statute prevents somebody from using a firearm in a threatening manner in some kind of argument or quarrel, but just possessing it is not illegal,” Burton said.

In the video, the Brighton man is seen pushing Richardson. Burton said under Utah law, physical contact that can or does cause injury or pain is assault.

“Was the push so hard that it was likely to cause injury to the other person? Or was it just a push and the other person didn’t fall down, and so there’s no harm, no foul?” he said.

When Richardson is walking away, the property owner can be heard saying, “do it again, there will be holes.”

“That’s called a conditional threat, and you can tell somebody, listen, if this happens again, then I might take action,” Burton said. “But what you’re doing is you’re not threatening them at that moment with imminent force.”

The attorney said it’s not against the law to make a conditional threat. He said if the case were to go to a judge or jury, they’d have to decide if a reasonable person would’ve responded the way this owner did.

“The law tries to reach a balance between protecting somebody’s ownership rights, gun ownership rights, and protecting other people’s right to feel safe and not be threatened by a firearm, by deadly weapon,” he said. “It is a tricky balance. I mean, in this situation, I think it’s going to come down to whether or not that person was actually using a gun to threaten somebody else’s life.”

Burton said stand your ground laws would likely not apply in this case.

“If somebody is trying to come into your own home, you don’t have a duty to retreat or to extricate yourself from that situation,” he said. “But in this situation, it’s property and there’s not an immediate threat against the property owner,” Burton said.

Burton said anyone skiing in the backcountry should also be aware of where they are.

“I think anybody who’s skiing or snowboarding in a place where they’re likely to go on to somebody’s private property should probably be aware that they may be unwelcome on that property,” Burton said.
“Again, the response from the property owner may not be reasonable when somebody comes on their property and hasn’t been made aware of that they’re not allowed on that property.”

Unified Police said Tuesday this incident is under investigation.

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Expert breaks down how far someone can legally go to protect their Utah property