Iowa recently changed its law from duck and cover to stand your ground. This effectively changed the requirements necessary for a defendant to claim self-defense in a criminal trial. Instead of having to prove that people first ran or tried to take cover before using force to protect themselves, defendants now do not have to duck or cover. Instead, they must only prove that they acted as reasonable people would if they believed they were being threatened.
Under this change, people also do not even have to be correct. For example, people could think they were being robbed and therefore use force, and later find out they were not being robbed at all. Rather, the suspect was wearing a ski mask because it was cold.
Stand your ground essentially gives people the same power a police officer has. If you even believe you are being threatened, you are justified in using force, even deadly force, if any other reasonable person would have done the same thing. Even though this seems clear, a jury found Lamar Wilson guilty of voluntary manslaughter.
In August 2017, Wilson was on the Pedestrian Mall late at night when a group of six men walked by him. At least one pulled his shirt up to show he was carrying a gun. Wilson then pulled his registered gun out and shot toward the crowd five times, killing one. Officials later discovered that one member of the group of six was a felon carrying a stolen gun.
In court, it was an agreed that the men who intimidated Wilson had at least three guns. One of which, again, was stolen and being carried by a felon. Despite this, the jury found that Wilson was not justified in using deadly force.
This ruling is shocking. Wilson defended himself against six people who were confirmed to have at least three guns on them. Wouldn’t reasonable people use force if three guns were pulled on them?
To put things even more into perspective, in 2016, Minnesota police Officer Jeronimo Yanez was found to be justified in shooting Philando Castile after Castile reached to get his wallet out of his pocket. Yanez asserted that he believed Castile was reaching for a weapon and therefore he believed he was defending himself.
There is an obvious difference between civilians using deadly force and police officers. But the stand-your-ground law specifically gives civilians the justification to use deadly force as long as they believe they are being attacked. In Wilson’s case, he believed he was being attacked. Wilson was found to be correct, which is not even necessary in order to use stand your ground as a defense. Somehow, Wilson was still found guilty.
Meanwhile, Yanez was justified in killing Castile solely because Yanez believed Castile was reaching for a weapon.
If Iowa intends on having a stand-your-ground law, we must at least apply it evenly. It is not acceptable to allow some people to justify their actions with this offense but not others. It is absolutely necessary that everyone is treated the same under the law. It is abundantly clear that Wilson was not treated fairly.