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  • Writer's pictureTom Fowler

Stand Your Ground Law Iowa

The stand your ground law allows Iowa citizens to protect themselves using lethal force before the obligation to retreat. It essentially protects a person's right to act in self-defense in the face of danger without any legal obligation to step away from the situation.

Added to the Iowa constitution in 2017, the law allows a person to use a firearm or other method of force against a would-be attacker without fear of prosecution, but only if they are not involved in illegal activity prior to the incident.

Stand Your Ground VS Castle Doctrine

Stand Your Ground VS Castle Doctrine

Like Castle Doctrine, which states a person has no duty to retreat when in their home or place of work, stand your ground laws remove the obligation to remove yourself from harm whenever possible before turning to force.

Under Iowa law, there is very little difference between the two terms, other than the locations they apply to and some minor terminology.

Castle Doctrine only applied to a person under threat in their home, property, or workplace. It states that reasonable force can be applied when the defendant believes there is a threat to their safety or the safety of others. You can use deadly force anywhere where danger is present under Iowa stand your ground law. The specification excluding defendants engaged in illegal activity only applies to the latter.

If you have witnessed someone get shot and you try to help save them, under the Good Samaritan Laws, you cannot be legally reprimanded if they are injured further.

Debate on Use of Deadly Force as Self-Defense

Wherever gun violence is concerned, the legal and moral debates persist. In the case of Iowa's stand your ground law, citizens have raised questions about the possible consequences. Many believe that allowing the use of deadly force may stop a person from taking an alternative course of action to diffuse the situation. However, other opinions believe the very opposite.


The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence describes stand your ground laws as dangerous and ignoring legal precedent, promoting the use of deadly force in situations that may not require it. By encouraging people to stay and fight when retreating could be a viable and safe option, the gun violence in Des Moines is likely to increase- although it is likely to be documented as defense, not violence.


Supporters of allowing the use of deadly force as self-defense under Iowa law believe the already low gun violence rates in Des Moines are likely to drop, as criminals may be dissuaded from breaking the law for fear of getting shot.

Rulings By the Iowa Supreme Court

In 2019, the Iowa Supreme court made a change to the stand your ground law, adding that any criminal activity prior to using lethal force in self-defense disqualifies a person from protection. Without limits, the law could be abused.

The amendment specifies that the stand your ground law only applies to abiding citizens who are lawfully present at the time of the incident and have a justifiable cause. Decisions to add this specification came as the result of a specific case in Des Moines. This law was used as part of a legal defense.

State of Iowa VS Miguel Angel Lorenzo Baltazar

Miguel Angel Lorenzo Baltazar was the catalyst for the changes applied to the legislature detailing the stand your ground law. In 2017, the defendant shot and killed Jeffery Mercado in self-defense. During the court case, his attorney invoked the stand your ground law as reasoning for the shooting and claimed innocence.

Baltazar maintains that he feared Mercado had a gun and decided to use deadly force to protect himself. However, the defendant was illegally carrying a firearm. He was, therefore, engaged in criminal activity prior to the shooting.

Because he was illegally carrying, the defendant could not be considered a lawfully present citizen, and there were questions surrounding his reason for carrying the gun. Although Baltazar maintains he feared Mercado and acted to protect himself, the defense did not hold up in court.

The Iowa Supreme court found him guilty of first-degree murder, and he is now serving life in prison. Although an appeals order was submitted to get Baltazar a new trial, the attempts were denied.

Terminology Under Iowa Supreme Court Law

Terminology Under Iowa Supreme Court Law

Lethal VS Reasonable Force

Lethal force refers to an attack intended to cause serious bodily harm or death. Firearms and knives are the most common items used as lethal force defense. Reasonable force is relative to the situation. Using physical strength to overpower an attacker or non-fatally injuring a person could be considered reasonable force. If you have been injured by someone, contact an aggressive injury attorney.

Disqualifying Illegal Activity

Since the supreme court in Iowa added this legislation, the right to stand your ground is limited. Essentially, anyone involved in any crime as an incident unfolds is not entitled to use force. The Iowa supreme court law states that only a lawfully present citizen has no obligation to retreat, suggesting that an un-lawfully citizen does.

Illegal activity includes, but is not limited to:

  • Carrying a weapon without a permit

  • Being present on private property without permission

  • Actively involved at the scene of the crime

  • Stolen goods on one's person

Self-Defense VS Homicide

To qualify for self-defense, and avoid serving life for murder, there must be sufficient evidence to suggest the defendant was in real imminent danger. Because the duty to retreat does not apply in Iowa, citizens must consider the situation before using lethal force. Death is ruled a homicide when there is no probable cause for self-defense. If a person kills another human being without proof of cause, they could be charged with first-degree murder.


Iowa court introducing this law was divisive. Des Moines lawmakers and the Giffords Law Center for the Prevention of Gun Violence disagree on the outcome of allowing the use of deadly force as a first resort, rather than attempting to retreat, but agree on the need for limits and regulations.

The distinctive amendment to the bill excluding any defendants engaged in illegal activity at the time of shooting or otherwise harming an attacker is considered a positive move by the state's supreme court.

Des Moines boasts one of the lowest gun death rates in a US city. The regulation of gun laws such as the stand your ground bill helps the Iowa court work to maintain these levels.

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