Nov. 22 (UPI) -- A man convicted of murder will get a new trial after the Iowa Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a change to a "stand your ground" law does not protect those involved in criminal activity.
The 2018 murder conviction of Miguel Baltazar for the 2017 shooting of Jeffrey Mercado in Des Moines was reversed and remanded for a new trial. In an 11-page ruling, the court said the jury should have been better instructed in the language of Chapter 704 of the Iowa law, enacted a month earlier, which includes a revision to justification of self-defense. In his trial, Baltazar relied on self-defense as a motive for the shooting of Mercado.
"Prior to the legislation, the state could rebut a claim of justification by proving, 'an alternative course of action was available to the defendant,'" the court said in its ruling. "The 2017 legislation deleted the 'alternative course of action' language from the Iowa code and added language saying, 'A person who is not engaged in illegal activity has no duty to retreat from any place where the person is lawfully present before using force.' The amendments to justification took effect July 1, 2017, prior to the July 28 shooting at issue here. The amendments clearly allow the justification defense, regardless of whether an alternative course of action was available."
Since the new version of the law was never presented to the jury, the court said that Baltzar's counsel "breached an essential duty in failing to object when the older version of the justification instruction was given" in court.
The implication of the court's ruling means the state's interpretation of its newest "stand your ground" law indicates the duty to withdraw from a conflict is with the person conducting an illegal activity, and that there is no duty to withdraw when a person is not engaged in an illegal activity.