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Recent Stand Your Ground Ruling Offers Little Guidance, Professor Says

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A recent ruling in a Cedar Rapids Stand Your Ground case offers little guidance for future cases, a law professor says.

A recent ruling in a Stand Your Ground case in Eastern Iowa won’t resolve larger questions about the statute, according to one Iowa law professor.

This week Sixth District Judge Patrick Grady denied immunity from prosecution under the law in the pre-trial phase of an attempted murder case in Cedar Rapids.

Michael Gene Hodges had sought immunity for charges related to a January 28, 2018 shooting outside Pub 217 in downtown Cedar Rapids. After a verbal altercation between Hodges and Zevon Johnson outside the bar, both men shot at each other virtually simultaneously.

Both men were charged with attempted murder, among other charges. And both cited the Stand Your Ground law as justification, though Johnson has since entered a guilty plea.

The statute, passed by state lawmakers in 2017, provides a person has no duty to retreat before using deadly force if they percieve a threat. A court can grant immunity from "civil and criminal liability" to those using deadly force under certain circumstances. 

But Judge Grady found "this Court is without authority to declare as a matter of law that Hodges is immune from any further prosecution."  Grady implied state lawmakers didn't adequately outline procedures to support a pre-trial decision, citing the "lack of any clear procedure about how it is to be applied." 

This is the latest in a series of cases testing the application of the Stand Your Ground law. Drake University Professor of Law Robert Rigg said the recent ruling doesn't offer much guidance for other cases.

“It’s just a narrow ruling. It’s a narrow pre-trial ruling. And it further is one judge’s interpretation of this particular statute," Rigg said. "Judge Grady has made a specific ruling based on these facts. And has held that immunity doesn’t apply, that the immunity of the Stand Your Ground ruling doesn’t apply on the pre-trial basis. It doesn’t go any further than that.”

Rigg says the state Supreme Court will ultimately have to interpret the law or lawmakers will have to amend it.

“I think what will happen is that eventually this has to go to the Supreme Court and they’ll have to decide how they want to implement these proceedings and how they want to implement this statute,” Rigg said.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter