Traditionally, self-defense laws have provided that if a person believes that they or someone else is in danger of injury or death at the hands of another before they can use force against the aggressor, they must attempt to retreat. In other words, they must have exhausted all avenues to avoid harm before they can meet force with force. Under traditional laws, if a person believed that they were in danger and used force before trying to retreat, that person may be held civilly or criminally liable for that use of force.
In recent years, many states have adopted what is referred to as “stand your ground” laws. These statutes remove the duty to retreat requirement. In these states, an individual who reasonably fears that personal injury or death is imminent does not have to first try to escape the situation. That person can, as implied, stand their ground and use the amount of force reasonably necessary to stop the attack on themselves or others. A person who causes injury or death when warding off an attacker can raise the “stand your ground” law as a defense and could be immune from civil or criminal liability for any harm they caused their aggressor.
Iowa is a “stand your ground” state.
At Branstad & Olson, we consider all possible defenses to protect our clients’ rights and freedoms. To learn more about how we can help, contact us today. To learn more about raising self-defense or the “stand your ground” argument, read on.
What Is the Use of Force Defense in Iowa?
Chapter 704 of the Iowa Code provides that a person may be justified in using reasonable force in circumstances they believe could lead to personal injury or property loss or damage. Under the law, even if the person is mistaken in the amount of force necessary to stop danger from befalling them or others, their use of force might be justified if their inaccurate belief about the risks involved in the situation is reasonable.
A person may be able to show that they were acting in self-defense if:
- They were defending themselves or another person from unlawful use of force,
- They were protecting their personal property, or
- They were resisting a forcible felony (such as an armed assault, burglary, or robbery).
Reasonable force includes deadly force, provided that such is necessary to protect the safety or life of the person or another. Deadly force is the force that can result in serious injury or death, and the person using it knows or reasonably should know that this outcome could happen.
A person is presumed to be justified in using deadly force in the following situations:
- They are defending themselves or others against someone who has unlawfully entered a home, place of employment or business, or occupied vehicle.
- They are defending themselves or others against someone trying to remove them from their home, place of employment or business, or occupied vehicle.
If a person acts in self-defense, they have certain legal duties they must adhere to after using reasonable force.
For instance, they must:
- Notify (or have someone else notify) law enforcement that force has been used against another,
- Not intentionally tamper with any evidence pertaining to their use of force, and
- Not try to discourage any witnesses to the use of force from cooperating with an investigation concerning the matter.
Iowa Code § 704.13 states that a person who uses reasonable force is immune from civil or criminal liability for any harm caused to their aggressor. In other words, the individual cannot be sued or face prosecution because of their actions.
When Does the “Stand Your Ground” Law Not Apply?
Although Iowa’s “stand your ground” law removes a person’s duty to retreat before using reasonable force, it does not apply in all situations.
The defense cannot be raised in the following circumstances:
- The person who responded with force was engaged in criminal activity, was trying to flee the scene after committing a crime, or was using their home, place of business, or occupied vehicle to further an offense or criminal act;
- The person against whom defensive force was used had lawful custody of the individual being removed from a home, place of employment or business, or occupied vehicle;
- The person against whom defensive force was used had a lawful right to be in the location where force was used or was the lawful resident of that location;
- The person who used defensive force was committing a forcible felony; or
- The person who used defensive force caused the other individual to attack them.
What Are My Legal Options?
If you have been accused of an offense like assault because you used force against another person, you might be able to challenge the accusations by raising self-defense. However, because of the nuances in the law, you must discuss your case with an experienced attorney. An attorney can review everything that happened and apply the appropriate statutes and defenses to your case.
In the event that the use of force may not have been justified, your lawyer can explain possible legal avenues that can be pursued and your options for seeking a favorable outcome.