Prosecutors seek to appeal ruling to dismiss case under new Utah self-defense law

Apr 12, 2022, 6:44 PM | Updated: Jun 11, 2022, 10:50 pm

Third District Judge Todd Shaughnessy presiding over a hearing in Jon Michael Clara's case on March...

Third District Judge Todd Shaughnessy presiding over a hearing in Jon Michael Clara's case on March 4, 2022.

SALT LAKE COUNTY – Prosecutors are seeking to appeal a judge’s decision to throw out a felony firearms case against a Utah man who claimed self-defense under a new, controversial Utah law.

Jon Michael Clara fired several shots toward another vehicle after it crashed into his in 2019. After successfully urging lawmakers to pass HB227 in 2021, the new self-defense law worked in Clara’s favor.

In a new type of pretrial hearing afforded to Clara under the law, the burden shifted to prosecutors to prove with clear and convincing evidence – a high legal bar – that Clara was not acting in self-defense or the defense of others.

“I was just aiming to let him know, if you come back this way, you know, you’re going to get shot,” Clara testified during a November hearing.

During a hearing in March, the judge said he believed a jury should decide whether Clara was justified when he opened fire and noted the shooting endangered others, but ultimately said he felt the new law “tied” his hands.

“This is one instance in which the state can appeal. I would encourage the state to do that to seek some clarity on exactly what this new law means,” said Third District Judge Todd Shaughnessy.

Online court records show prosecutors filed a notice of appeal on April 1.

Defense attorney Clayton Simms said he and his client believe the judge made the right decision.

“In many ways I think prosecutors are performing CPR on a corpse,” said Simms. “The case is dead and they’re trying to revive it, but in my opinion, it’s not going to come back.”

The KSL Investigators first reported on the new law’s unintended consequences and have followed multiple cases testing the new statute.

Earlier this month, a different judge ruled a similar case should advance to trial. The individual charged, Faalae So’o, is accused of firing several shots toward fleeing vehicles, leaving a then 18-year-old passenger permanently paralyzed from the waist down.

In that case, Third District Judge William Kendall denied the defense’s motion to dismiss the case, saying that evidence presented by prosecutors showed So’o and his family were not in imminent danger when he opened fire.

“Warning shots are not justified under Utah law,” Kendall said.

Tuesday, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill’s office confirmed Clara’s case is the first in the county prosecutors have filed to appeal under the new law.

However, Simms noted the Attorney General’s Office is the only agency that can appeal felony cases and could still reject the appeal case.

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Prosecutors seek to appeal ruling to dismiss case under new Utah self-defense law