What Is the Law of Self-Defense in Iowa?

Defendants who are facing assault or homicide charges in Iowa can sometimes argue successfully that they acted in self-defense. According to Iowa law, a person is justified in responding with reasonable force when they have a reasonable belief that doing so is necessary to defend themselves, or another person, from an immediate threat of unlawful force. This rule contains two main limitations on the use of force to defend oneself: the threat one is facing must be immediate, and the force used in response must be reasonable.

Reasonable force is defined in the law as the minimum level of force a reasonable person would consider necessary to prevent an injury or loss in similar circumstances. Reasonable force can include deadly force if there is no alternative available.

A person facing an imminent threat of force has a duty to retreat before responding with force, unless retreating would put their own life or safety, or that of a third person, at risk.

The duty to retreat does not apply, however, if the imminent threat of violence takes place in a person's own home, or place of business or employment.

Finally, the use of force in self-defense is not justified in certain circumstances, such as when the person claiming self-defense provoked the other person to use force, either by their own unlawful act, or in order to create an excuse to harm the other person.

Self-defense law is more complicated than many people realize, and what is justified in another state may not be justified in Iowa. A person facing criminal charges who wants to assert self-defense as a justification for their actions should carefully consider the limitations of the self-defense law.

Source: Iowa Legislature, "Iowa Code § 714.2," accessed Jan. 2, 2017

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