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Stand your ground raised in trial

Iowa's criminal justice system provides a stand your ground defense which took effect on July 1. It was recently raised for the first time in a defense to first-degree murder charges.

Law-abiding individuals, who are legally in specific place, do not have to retreat and may use deadly force in their defense if they feel that there is a threat to their lives. There is a presumption that defensive and deadly force is reasonable if another person illegally entered a house or building through secrecy.

In a court hearing in July, a defense attorney said that this law will be argued where a woman was accused of repeatedly shooting her step-father in the basement of her family home near Des Moines on May 8. At this hearing, bail was reduced from $1 million to $100,000 cash or surety bond.

The victim was not living with the family because of a no-contact order that was implemented after he grabbed his wife's hair and pushed her into a car window last November. She filed for divorce at that time

This order was repealed on May 2 and the victim returned home to retrieve some of his belongings when his step-daughter saw him. The defendant was unaware that he was in the home and her mother believes that the victim performed an act to threaten her.

Prosecutors charge that she got a gun from the upstairs of the house and went down into the basement where the step-father was shot. Police claim that he did not make threats or assault her.

The defense argued that, under the stand your ground law, a person may have an incorrect belief about the threat to her life if she believed that the threat was real and acted appropriately. Several incidents were cited about his threats to the family. These include the victim throwing a heavy object which broke his wife's hand and his 2001 imprisonment for stabbing her arm. The defendant had a permit to legally possess the gun.

The prosecution opposed bail reduction. They argued that the defendant was not justified in going to another part of the house, retrieving her firearm and repeatedly shooting the victim who was not engaged in threats of violence or an assault.

An attorney may assist with asserting valid defenses to criminal charges. They can also help assure that their rights are protected.

Source: The Des Moines Register, "Stepfather's killing could be first test of Iowa's 'new stand your ground' law," By Grant Rodgers, July 25, 2017

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