MUSCATINE, Iowa (KCRG) - Just a few months before a shooting at the Iowa City Ped Mall in 2017 that left a man dead and others injured, the Iowa state legislature passed the state's "stand your ground" provision, as part of a larger bill.
The Iowa Supreme Court heard final arguments in the Ped Mall shooting case on Sept. 10, 2019, at Muscatine High School. (MARY GREEN/KCRG)
That means the provision was still fairly new and untested when Lamar Wilson of Iowa City went to trial in 2018 for charges stemming from that shooting.
Wilson’s attorneys argued he shot in self-defense, but a jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter, two counts of assault with intent to inflict serious injury and intimidation with a weapon. He was later sentenced to 24 years in prison.
Wilson appealed the ruling, which has since reached the Iowa Supreme Court. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court held a special session at Muscatine High School, in which it heard the final public hearing for the case.
The attorney for Lamar Wilson, Assistant State Appellate Defender Melinda Nye, said he should get a new trial because of issues with Iowa's "stand your ground" provision.
"The procedure that the court ultimately relied on resulted in a fundamentally unfair trial and an unfair hearing,” Nye said.
Nye told the Iowa Supreme Court that Wilson should have been given a hearing before his trial to determine if he was acting in self-defense when he shot and killed another man and injured two more people. Nye argued that if that pre-trial hearing had found the "stand your ground" provision applied, then Wilson should have received immunity from criminal prosecution.
"Immunity from damages, which is what the statute says,” Justice Christopher McDonald said. “It doesn't say immunity from criminal liability or criminal conviction."
"The immunity applies to both the criminal liability and the civil liability,” Nye countered.
Some justices then asked how this type of pre-trial hearing would be different from the actual trial.
Nye said it would be an evidentiary hearing, and the burden of proof would be on the defendant to prove they acted in self-defense.
“Sometimes that's going to require witnesses coming up to testify and a longer, protracted hearing, and sometimes it can be much more cut and dry,” she said.
Then Assistant State Attorney General Louis Sloven argued that the statute shouldn't be interpreted to include immunity from criminal prosecution because that phrase was purposefully left out.
"That language is not in this statute at all,” he said.
More discussion followed over what is and is not in the statute, as well as what certain words in it mean.
"Wouldn't it just be easier to say this might be poor drafting?” Justice McDonald asked. “Maybe this language isn't doing any work."
In her rebuttal, Nye said there isn't a procedure for cases like this outlined in the statute simply because the statute didn't exist before, but she added that procedure would be determined through decisions like this one.
“So for the reasons argued in my brief and today, we ask that you reverse his convictions and remand for a new trial and a new hearing on the immunity,” Nye concluded.
After the public hearing wrapped up, Chief Justice Mark Cady said the court would most likely come to a decision “months from now.”